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APOCALYPSE NOW

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1979, Paramount Pictures)
Starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford

On a mission to find and kill a rogue Colonel up-river, a group of soldiers experience all the horrors of the Vietnam War.

 

 

2 stars

November 7th, 2001 in the Theatre

 
   

Way, way too long...  The first half of the movie was watchable, with a few standout scenes.  But the second half, and a lot of the scenes in the first half, were nearly unbearable.

This is one of those times when my ratings system fails me.  I was often bored, I didn't understand half the dialog, and I found that most of the movie could have been edited out.  However, I know that this movie is hailed as a classic, and I understand why.  This is a stylistic movie, and I am not a fan of those types of movies.  And so I am not sure how to rate this film.  I liked it... yet I didn't like it.  Were there enough likable scenes to offset the rest?  I really don't know.  I didn't even know whether to put this in the Action or Drama section!

I have read that the redux version of this film has ruined the original.  I've read that it is just as good.  I have not read anything suggesting that it has made the film better.  All it has done is made the film longer... much longer, and almost unbearably so.

All of the scenes that I liked were at the beginning of the movie.  The most stunning one, worthy of five stars, is the sight of the choppers coming in over the river at sunrise, with the musical backdrop of Wagner's 'Ride Of The Valkyries'.  When it lands, a gigantic wingtip vortex (my specialty) floats off.  I wonder how many times the director had to shoot that to get it right!  The entire scene was so beautiful, and that is the only reason, I think, that this movie rises above the one-star rating.  

I also liked the way Captain Willard shows us the horrors of the Vietnam War.  As he makes his journey "up the river", we see through his eyes how that war made every soldier into go crazy in one way or another.  His shipmates are so pent up that they become trigger happy on an innocent native boat, killing its entire crew.  One of them takes the now-stranded Golden Retriever puppy, and when it is lost during a firefight, he nearly goes completely crazy.  

Every company we see has either lost its commanding officer, or the CO has gone nearly insane.  This far from the command post, the chain of command has broken down.  Not to mention the way the Viet Cong resist the soldiers.  One officer asks if it is worth rebuilding the bridge every day since it is bombed back into the river every night...  

The first scene with the Playboy bunnies shows how absurd this war is.  Putting the lives of those women at such a risk, with hundreds of soldiers cheering at them and then swamping the stage, was just a crazy idea in the first place.  That would have been a good way to wipe out several companies of soldiers, if the VC knew about it!

The second scene with those women, stranded in a chopper without fuel, trading sex for fuel, was pretty much wasted.  One woman bawls her eyes out at a dead colleague, another complains while the soldier undresses her and poses her in a position that he had memorized from her centerfold, completely oblivious to her discomfort.  

The best depiction was the insane Colonel Kilgore, who uses the boat's staging ground as they enter the river as an excuse to surf along the terrific waves.  His hat suggests that he's from Texas.  Where did he learn to surf?  

By the time we reach the French Villa near the border with Cambodia, I had become quite bored.  The entire dinner, where the French complain about Americans and the war, was way too much like a rampage by the writer of the movie, and didn't really reflect the tone of the rest of it.  And yet it was a little haunting, because many of these ideas are coming back into the world's consciousness right now.  The way the Frenchman suggests that the VC were created by America, and that they don't know what they should be doing in the war, could apply today.

When we finally reach Colonel Kurtz, the man that Willard has been sent to kill, because he has disregarded all orders and even left Vietnam with a small army of his own, I had lost interest all together.  Willard is put in a cage, his remaining companions killed (except for one, whom he takes back down the river afterwards), and is eventually released.  He uses that freedom to discover that Kurtz really is crazy, and that the man wants it all to end, for Willard to kill him.  And so on a festival night, Willard puts on camouflage, sneaks into Kurtz's hut, and kills the man, brutally.  Except to act as counterpoint to the slaughtering of the ox, did he really have to be to bloody in killing the man?

For a man who claims to have seen it all in Vietnam, Willard acts strangely surprised by everything he sees on his trip up the river.  His eyes are constantly round, he sees everybody as a potential threat, justifiably so, but he seems to be surprised at everything.  It seems strange, that's all.

Between boring spots and the really bizarre happenings, there were some good spots.  I chose to focus on remembering those good spots, and ignore what I almost fell asleep through.  I suppose there were enough good points, the stunning chopper scene, and the depiction of the beginning of total loss of control being the real winners, to keep this movie as a pass.  But I will certainly never watch it again.  Definitely a dark, dark movie, don't look for any joy whatsoever here.

 
   

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