Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I have a massive cinematic blind spot, and it's in the precise shape of Oliver Stone. I had never seen an Stone movie until now, and considering he's a fairly major name in film, that's a fairly glaring omission. Truth be told, I've never had any real desire to see a Stone movie, perhaps because everything I've heard about him indicates someone who can't do subtlety. Now that I've seen Platoon - one of the three Vietnam movies, along with Apocalypse Now (which was my worst MaR writeup) and Full Metal Jacket, that everyone likes - I can judge him at least a little more accurately.

Platoon is about fresh faced young recruit Charlie Sheen, who looks enough like his father that you wonder if Stone was deliberately trying to recall Apocalypse Now. He's under the command of Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger and his many scars. Trying to figure out who killed their dudes, Berenger and friends assault a village, kills people for no reason, and generally makes a complete hash of the whole winning hearts and minds thing. Meanwhile, Dafoe, Sheen and their friends start to feel very uncomfortable about what they're witnessing. Then, as in real life, the war starts to go quite badly for everyone involved.

The movie is only tangentially about the conflict in Vietnam, using it as a backdrop to make a more elaborate point about human nature. The characters are neatly divided into two camps, the people who have willfully given up on their humanity, and those who desperately cling to it. The aforementioned village scene is a prime example, with some people willfully killing and abusing the villagers, and others objecting and trying to stop. Dafoe is pitched as the good, and Berenger evil, and the clash between the two - and eventually Sheen and Berenger - is well handled in the battle scenes and important moments.

One problem though, Stone doesn't trust his audience. He can do a brilliant battle scene, or a series of scenes which get his point across magnificently, but then he seems to worry that nobody gets it. So, we get bogged down with scenes where characters fret about moral decisions and explain with words everything that images managed to get across just fine in the preceding moments. I wanted to give stone a call and say "I get it, I was paying attention. You don't have to spell it out for me." There's a narration right at the end when Sheen says something about how they were fighting themselves, not the enemy. If you were even paying a modicum of attention, you would have already realized this, why put it in words? This lack of trust can explain why I've never gotten the impression that Stone movies can handle subtlety at all.

I also feel the need to point out that this has possibly the gayest scene in film history, and I've seen gay sex scenes. When Sheen is introduced to marijuana it plays it as a sex scene, including have Willem Dafoe tell Sheen to put his lips on his gun. I like the idea of the whole drugs as seduction bit, but by making it quite so obvious it becomes comical rather than clever.

But don't misunderstand, I think this is about 80% a great movie. When Stone feels like telling the story and not trying to explain it, it's well made, good looking, often smart and delivers a great commentary about what war does to people. That lack of trust, unfortunately, makes it worse than it should be. I understand the movie, Stone, I've been paying attention. You don't need to tell me what I already know, okay?

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha nice. I too have never seen an Oliver Stone film, but I was at least a little bit interested in this one merely because Charlie Sheen's character has my name (Chris Taylor). That's about it. Willem Dafoe is a good actor in just about everything I've seen him in.