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Mar 15, 2012
As we celebrate the 4th of July, I thought we could take a little time to examine some American history. Of course the most American Oscar winner of all time would have to be Godfather II, but Iím saving that one for near the end, so instead we take a look at a movie about one of the most divisive times in our history, Vietnam, with 1986 winner Platoon.
We follow green recruit Chris Taylor, played by President Bartletís son Charlie Sheen, as he begins his tour in Vietnam. He eventually falls in with one of two factions that form within the unit. Taylor joins the pot smoking group. The others form a straight laced group that is far more gung ho and is far more enamored with the war effort itself. The gap between the two widens when they raid a Vietnamese village and some of the soldiers get a bit carried away. Eventually the question arises as to an illegal killing, and in a firefight the next day the sergeant responsible kills another sergeant he feared might call him out on it. This canít be resolved through official means because Taylor fears that no one will believe him anyway, so when the unit gets into another major battle the following day, Taylor kills the sergeant.
This is one of the more action packed movies to ever win the big one, but itís so much more than an action flick. The cinematography is beautiful from beginning to end, especially the very famous shot of the platoon walking away from the village as it burns to the ground.
And unlike a lot of action movies, the producers didnít just look for big name actors with limited skill, but a lot of muscle and the ability to rattle off one liners. They went with a stable of virtual unknowns. Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen, two years before they teamed up again in Major League, were the only widely known actors in the cast at the time. Now of course, you look down the imdb page and see Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley (playing the exact opposite of Dr. Cox), Kevin "Drama" Dillon, Keith David, Johnny Depp, and the incomparable Tony Todd.
If youíre looking for a rah-rah, yay USA type movie, this is not it. Oliver Stone is not pulling punches when it comes to what he thought of Vietnam. The characters most enthralled by the way effort are most to blame in the massacre at the village. Even Taylor, a volunteer, not a draftee, loses faith in the war by the end. Even Lt. Wolfe is used by military instructors as an example of what not to do, though I find it hard to take him seriously mostly because he looks like Rick Carlisle.
Iíve never been a big fan of Stoneís work (he made Jim Morrison look like an idiot in Doors, ruined a great Quentin Tarantino script in Natural Born Killers, made football boring with Any Given Sunday, and drove everyone nuts with JFK), but this is a very good movie. He hits all the right notes, pulls great performances out of everyone, and puts it all together wonderfully. Along with Wall Street, this is the highlight of his career, before he went over a cliff and started making self indulgent crap.
Other nominees in the big category are nothing to be proud of. When the other big name is The Mission, you can tell Platoon was a shoe-in on Oscar night. It seems like Academy voters were going by a list of best picture nominee stereotypes. You had the historical epic, The Mission, the English movie, A Room with a View, the movie about a disability, Children of a Lesser God, and the cute little movie with no shot in hell, Hannah and Her Sisters. The far more impressive list is the ones that got snubbed at the nomination stage. Color of Money got Paul Newman a best actor Oscar, but no consideration for best picture. Stand By Me won a whopping zero Oscars in its one nomination, despite being one of the best coming of age movies in recent memory. And then we have one of the best sports movies ever. Hoosiers picked up two nominations, Dennis Hopper for best supporting actor in his role as town drunk/ assistant coach Shooter, and Jerry Goldsmith for original score. It won nothing. Hopper and Gene Hackman both nail their performances. The script is wonderful, and the cinematography is great. Platoon is a great movie, I can find no real fault to it in fact, but Hoosiers is even better.