Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#457: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Matthew Modine, Arliss Howard & Adam Baldwin

A classic among Vietnam War movies, Full Metal Jacket begins with the new recruits for the Marines at Parris Island. Among the recruits are Pvt. Pyle, the overweight and slow-learning innocent and Pvt. Joker, a man who’s all about getting a laugh and is assigned to help Pyle. Sgt. Hartman trains his soldiers to love their guns more than they love sex, having them sleep with their rifles and pray for their future victories. He is a strict instructor who is determined to get Pyle into shape to join the infantry, eventually having the other recruits punished for Pyle’s mistakes. After Pyle is abused at night for his continuous failures, he kills Sgt. Hartman and shoots himself in the head.

The second half of the film depicts the war in Vietnam, as Pvt. Joker, who is now a reporter, follows Pvt. Cowboy’s squadron. In a bombed out village, a sniper is taking out Cowboy’s men one by one, and the men struggle to move out of their cornered location.

It’s easy to see even from my brief synopsis that the heart of the film really is in the first half. In fact, I haven’t read any reviews that prefer the second half, and even many analyses chose to simply drop the second half and focus on the recruits’ basic training. Pvt. Pyle is by far the most memorable character in the film, and the image of him in the restroom has become iconic for the film.

In these first scenes, Sgt. Hartman dehumanizes his recruits. They are constantly suffering verbal abuse, and any sense of their old selves must be lost to become killing machines. In fact, we never learn any of the recruits’ real names, only the names assigned to them by Hartman. He glorifies all Marines of the past, including Lee Harvey Oswald and the sniper at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman. These scenes are absolutely horrifying, giving the American army a more Nazi-like feel. However, after losing all character in themselves, the audience loses all its compassion for the protagonist of the second half of the film.

In my opinion, it’s just not necessary to watch the second half. The first half, however, is worth the viewing. I’m surprised to see that despite a nearly universal agreement on this, the film still received 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll give it one thumb up for the first half – the other thumb is still disappointed with the second half.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Former US Marine Corps Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was not originally hired to play Gunnery Sgt. Hartman but as a consultant for the Marine Corps boot camp portion of the film. He performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse for 15 minutes without stopping, repeating himself or even flinching - despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann.
  • According to director John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Bill McKinney in the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. However, Kubrick was so unsettled after viewing McKinney's performance in Deliverance (1972) that he declined to meet with him, saying he was simply too frightened at the idea of being in McKinney's presence.
  • 'Vincent D'Onofrio (I)' gained 70 pounds for his role as Pvt. Pyle, breaking Robert De Niro's movie weight-gain record (60 pounds) for Raging Bull (1980). It took him 7 months to put the weight on and 9 months to take it off with physical training.

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