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FULL METAL JACKET

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Kubrick’s still stunning and still disturbing ‘Full Metal Jacket’ recently earned a 4K reissue on video, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on July 10, 1987. (And despite my prediction in the final paragraph, none of the actors was nominated for an Oscar, although R. Lee Ermey was nominated for a Golden Globe.)

 

Stanley Kubrick movies are events, no getting around it.

 

When a filmmaker of his stature makes a film only every seven or eight years, his fans tend to look forward to each venture with great expectations.

 

He doesn’t always live up to what we hope for, but even Kubrick’s less successful films — “The Shining,” for example — have so many fascinating elements about them that movie buffs inevitably return to them.

 

And his best films — “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001 — A Space Odyssey” — are classics.

 

“Full Metal Jacket,” Kubrick’s dissertation on the Vietnam War, is an oddly structured film, essentially in three parts. The sum of those parts may not add up to a classic but the parts themselves are composed of powerful filmmaking, particularly the final third.

 

       

 

   Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987)

 

Kubrick has taken a different approach than “Platoon,” so comparisons, though inevitable, are not really valid. Where Oliver Stone followed a rich kid who volunteered for combat and showed us how the war changed him, Kubrick follows his main character – a recruit who becomes a Stars and Stripes reporter – almost incidentally. There is some voice-over narration, but it’s limited, rather stilted and unnecessary. That, however, is where the resemblances end.

 

“Full Metal Jacket” begins in boot camp. You may think you’ve seen it all before, but you haven’t. Not like this.

 

Though the aforementioned main character, Joker (Matthew Modine), is prominent early on, the showstoppers are Vincent D’Onofrio as “Gomer Pyle” and Lee Ermey as the drill instructor. There is little dialogue exchanged here, the soundtrack being filled instead with the obscenities of the D.I. as he puts his troops through the rigors of basic training.

 

The boot camp portrayed here reveals more realistically than any movie I’ve ever seen the combination of comedy and tragedy, humor and heartbreak that make up that eight-to-12 week experience. And the end of this segment is a shocker.

 

Then we follow Joker to Vietnam, where his character is established as a conflicting mix of rebel, trooper, peace-lover and killer. But gradually one of the Marines in his group takes over our attention, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin).

 

      

 

And before long the latter third of the film takes us to the destroyed city of Hue during the Tet Offensive as this rat-tag bunch of sad sacks find themselves without a leader. The chaos that ensues as they are confronted with a sniper is as powerful a piece of filmmaking as you are likely to see on the subject. It reveals incredibly well the sense of young boys playing war — for keeps — and the difficulty of making decisions in the ultimate stress situation.

 

“Full Metal Jacket” has its flaws but Kubrick’s technical prowess is so overwhelming that those flaws seem largely unimportant. His characters may be underdeveloped, the story may meander from time to time, but the overall picture of the horror of war is clear, and the power with which it is told is at once repugnant and compelling.

 

Rated R for extreme violence and profanity, “Full Metal Jacket” would seem to round out a trilogy of war films by Kubrick — “Paths of Glory,” about the insanity of World War I; “Dr. Strangelove,” about the insanity of nuclear war; and now “Full Metal Jacket.”

 

Summer seems an odd time to release a movie of this intensity but maybe it’s just what we need in the midst of all the standard silly movies out right now.

 

And you can bet on Baldwin, D’Onofrio and Ermey as strong contenders for next year’s Oscar race.