Full Metal Jacket (1987)

(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, November 2016) I remember watching the first half of Full Metal Jacket as a teenager in the early nineties, on VHS in the basement of a friend’s house—and at the time, the conclusion of the training sequence was gory enough to upset me quite a bit. I caught the second half of the film years later, which didn’t feel as unfulfilling as it should considering the difference between the two chunks of the film. So it’s a bit of a reunion between two or three different periods to watch the film from beginning to end more than twenty years later. It also feels very interesting to watch it (by happenstance) two days after seeing Platoon. While Platoon is a more cohesive portrait of the soldier’s experience on the ground, Full Metal Jacket does offer stronger individual moments. It’s cynical about war in slightly different ways, and clearly shows director Stanley Kubrick’s mastery of craft. This comes at the expense of a stronger plot and/or a convincing portrayal of Vietnam itself—despite the heroic efforts of the production crew, the truth is that nearly everything was shot in England (!!!), and that the scenery usually associated with the Vietnam era is not to be found in the film. (On the other hand, depiction of urban warfare in Vietnam are rare and to be appreciated as a change from an endless time spent in the jungle.) Strong moments from the film include vivid training sequences, barracks dynamics, and a sustained urban warfare sequence. It does not amount to a cohesive film, but the highs are high and the lows are absent. It’s an essential war movie … but I’ll acknowledge my earlier self by stating that sensitive audiences should brace themselves.

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