Netflix is full of surprises. It often takes a bit of searching, but behind the fluffy outer layer of “Gossip Girl”, “A Turtles Tale”, and ‘Madea’s Big Happy Family”, lie a handful of quality films. Tonight I stumbled upon Oliver Stone’s 1986 film “Platoon” and give you my reaction.
There are various echelons of war films. “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Apocalypse Now”, and “Saving Private Ryan” are examples of films that belong in the upper echelon. Below them would be “The Thin Red Line”, “Black Hawk Down”, and “Patton”: films that are great, yet lack just that tiny element which makes them classic. Finally there are the war films like “Pearl Harbor” and “Battle Force”, that consist solely of people either shooting or being blown up, and while these are quite fun to watch, they are easily forgotten. “Platoon” belongs in the second group, and here’s why.
Much of the film is told through Chris Taylor’s (Charlie Sheen) letters to his grandmother, and from the get go, we get the feeling that Taylor does not want to be in the war. The strange part is Taylor wasn’t drafted, rather he enlisted himself, which creates an interesting paradox. Sheen’s role grows on us. In the beginning, he comes across as boring and bland, yet as the films progresses, he begins to slowly grow on us in a way that feels entirely natural. The character that stood out was Sgt. Elias, played by Willem Dafoe, who seemed like the only character who accepted the reality of the situation. Aside from the overly antagonistic portrayal of Sgt. Barnes by Tom Berenger, the rest of the cast was quite proficient.
There are moments where the film borders on pure brilliance, but there are moments where it feels a bit cheesy. Because of this inconsistency, the film fails in reaching the upper echelon of war films, but don’t let this be disheartening. Stone’s ability to create suspense made the ambush scenes genuinely frightening, and the cinematography of Robert Richardson was artful. Issues emerge in the nighttime fight scenes, which look more like a 4th of July display than a critical battle. I went into this film, however, expecting nothing more than a non-stop action flick, and was given an action packed piece of art.
The film’s over arching message did bother me. Karma seems to override morality in many moments, and the NVA are portrayed as purely evil. Finally, I was unsettled by the blatant patriotism present; I often felt Stone was fully behind the American’s cause in Vietnam, in a way that contradicted with the film’s purpose. If you want a profound war film, this movie is not for you. Yet for anybody looking for a well-made action movie, look no further.