Thursday, April 10, 2014



“Full Metal Jacket” has one of the iconic characters in Vietnam War movies. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, as played by R. Lee Ermey, is mesmerizing. He is the main reason the first third of the movie is so strong. However, I do need to point out that Ermey was basically playing himself and many of his lines came directly from the novel “The Short Timers”. “Pyle” is another iconic character. His evolution from sad sack to boot camp graduate to psycho is fascinating and chilling. The rest of the characters are fine, if unspectacular. Modine’s “Joker” has the right amount of cynicism, panache, and wit to anchor the last two thirds. Having a writer for “Stars and Stripes” get involved in the fighting in Hue was a grand idea. Of the “Lust Hog” squad, Cowboy is a likeable and sympathetic character, but “Animal Mother” is the standout. B

“Casualties of War” is a character driven movie. There are only six significant characters in the film and each is distinct. Although based on a true story, it is obvious Hollywood differentiated the characters to service stereotypes. Still, it’s an interesting mix. Fox’s Eriksson is appropriately naïve and principled. Clark is the psycho creep meant to represent young American boys corrupted by the war. Brule is the country hick. Diaz is Eriksson without the guts to resist peer pressure. The problem is Penn’s Meserve. His eccentric performance drains the character of credibility. His sudden change from savior to sociopath is loopy. C


Full Metal Jacket = 8
Casualties of War = 7


FMJ is not meant to be a realistic take on soldier behavior, but it actually is fairly authentic. The boot camp scenes were accused of going over the top and were one reason why the Pentagon declined to cooperate with the film. However, in reality Marine training was harsh and not only verbally, but physically abusive. The military also objected to the language which is ridiculously prudish since the grunts in the film talk very much like soldiers. The behavior of Joker and Rafterman as correspondents feels right. The camaraderie of the men conforms to the macho attitude of American boys in Vietnam. The banter is not forced like in “Hamburger Hill” and the lusty humor is characteristic of the U.S. military for most of the 20th Century. The behavior of the Lust Hogs in Hue seems spot on to me. B

COW deals with an actual atrocity, but the incident was atypical. It is unfair to lightly assume American soldiers would kidnap a girl for sexual purposes and with the intent of murdering her at the end. This was also extremely unlikely behavior for a LRRP. The behavior of the men is an aberration. In fact, this was one sorry ass patrol. If the movie was not based on an actual atrocity, I would be tempted to complain about the caricatured depiction of American soldiers by a clueless liberal. C


Full Metal Jacket = 16
Casualties of War = 14


The weapons highlighted in FMJ are authentic, with a fairly significant exception. In boot camp the recruits use M-14s and it is the weapon used on Hartman. However, in Vietnam the actors are armed with M-16s, not the appropriate M16A1s. Animal Mother is armed with a M-60 and although shooting from the hip was rare, it was not unbelieveable. It does seem unlikely that Joker would have been designated to fire an M-60 during the sapper assault on his base, but it’s possible. As far as tactics, the actions by Americans in Hue leave something to be desired. When the unit, supported by tanks, is entering the city and encounters fire, they proceed forward without calling in artillery fire on the suspected enemy position. This would have been unlikely considering the tendency of the Americans to plaster any threats, especially after casualties had resulted. The duel with the sniper has a truer feel to it. You would expect the men to go to great lengths to rescue a wounded comrade even if he was clearly sniper bait. C

COW gets the M16A1s right. The squad also has an M-79 (Eriksson) and an M-60 (Clark). In an early scene, Eriksson hits an incoming grenade with is M-79. Unbelievably, this incident actually happened. As far as tactics, the movie has some problems. This is apparent from the beginning when Eriksson is sent off to defend part of the perimeter by himself and armed with an M-79. The foliage is thick and it is ridiculous to think he could have done anything with that weapon. The movie covers the tactics used on the mission fairly closely. The problem is that the tactics shown in the film are not true to a normal LRRP mission. These guys go stumbling around in the jungle like a herd of elephants. At one point, Brule shoots at a water buffalo and Meserve does not seem to mind (at least in the book, he scolds him). Their “love shack” is laughably indefensible. The final “battle” is pure Hollywood and far from the actual incident. What the Hell is the gunboat doing there? D


Full Metal Jacket = 23
Casualties of War = 20


FMJ is not meant to be historically accurate. It is based on a novel, but Hasford was a correspondent in Vietnam and supposedly based the book on personal experiences. The Joker character is apparently based on him. The boot camp segment is realistic as to Marine boot camp in 1967. If anything, the movie underplays the physical abuse. (The DI in the book is more brutal.) The “Stars and Stripes” reporting strategy is accurate. Da Nang was one of the targets for the opening Tet attacks (note the fireworks in the background –nice touch). As far as Hue, civilians were executed by the Communists. There was a sniper problem as part of the urban house-to-house combat although the movie does not refer to a specific incident. Last, but not least, there were hookers in Vietnam that offered to sucky sucky for ten dollars. My only real problem is I doubt the sniper could have been that accurate using a standard AK-47 from that distance. C

COW is based on an atrocity investigated by a reporter for the New Yorker magazine. I read the resulting book and the movie is very hit and miss. The opening scenes that are designed to establish Meserve as a hero who cracks are patently Hollywoodized. He did not save Eriksson’s life, thus creating a dilemma for Eriksson later in the movie. However, the kidnapping and rape are accurate up until the murder which was not nearly as dramatic and action packed. The fire-fight that transpires parallel with the murder is way overblown. In actuality (true to Vietnam), the skirmish resulted in the search for one KIA. Boring! The court-martials are accurate although the cover-up is clichéd. Oh, and there was no fragging incident. B


Full Metal Jacket = 30
Casualties of War = 28


This was closer than I anticipated although “Casualties of War” has its fans. I call them Brian DePalma fans. It is a good little movie and tells a story that needed to be told. Watching it reminds one of how Hollywood takes interesting stories and makes them more interesting by playing fast and loose with the facts. Did I mention John Reilly’s character was added? Ironically, “Full Metal Jacket” does the opposite by taking a fictional story and making it less entertaining than the source material. Even though the screenplay could have been better, it is still an outstanding film. It is uneven, but its strengths were enough to defeat a pesky underdog. It will be interesting to see if its weaknesses cost it in the next matchup.


  1. The female "sniper" was not shooting an AK; it was a Czech vz. 58 assault rifle (or Chinese copy thereof).

    1. Okay, thank you. I maintain my position that she could not have pulled off those shots.


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