'Platoon' (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
(Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, et al / 2-Disc Blu ray+DVD / R / (1986) 2011 / MGM)
Overview: Chris (Charlie Sheen) is an infantryman whose loyalty is tested by two superior officers: Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a former hippie humanist who really cares about his men, and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a moody, macho soldier who may have gone over to the dark side!
Blu ray/DVD Verdict: Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' is an explosive tour de force which deals not only with the conflict in Vietnam but also tackles the fundamental issues of good and evil, the effect the 1960's counterculture had on not only civilians living in the US but soldiers abroad, and what it means to retain even a grain of morality in situations which may quite literally kill the average man at any time.
I've known Vietnam veterans who love this movie and hate this movie. While Oliver Stone is known to butcher history, and how, I don't think he'd lie about his own experiences as a veteran and I don't think he did. People do horrendous things in war (the Mai Lai Massacre being the standard example) because war itself is evil. When you put a group of men in a war that has neither rhyme nor reason to it and demand they stay in a dangerous jungle with a virtually unseen opponent, bad things are going to happen on both sides. It's that simple.
Stone takes pains to honor all variety of men who fought in this war, even the nearly psychopathic rednecks like Bunny. A lot of people miss that--the last thing Bunny says to Junior in their foxhole, before we see Satan himself blazing in Barnes' eyes as he attempts to kill Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), is "You gonna be alright in here with me, boy."
While it is clear that Elias' camp of dope smoking hippie/tough guys are the ones who have retained their humanity (Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker star in some early but prophetic roles) and Barnes' camp of hard drinking, racist nutcases are the ones so far gone they are able to "do the whole f**kin village" without feeling too badly afterward, both are given their due in different points of the movie. He honors their bravery and service even if he despises them individually.
Sgt. Elias Grodin (Wilem Defoe) and Sgt. Bob Barnes (Tom Berenger) are both fantastic soldiers with not only the capacity to survive the attacks of the VC themselves, but also have the ability to rescue the naive grunts from sudden death. We notice almost immediately that Elias - an inoffensive senior officer who retains a sense of conscience throughout the grisly ordeal - is the one who utilizes this, showing compassion to his crazed troops, even getting them high to calm them down.
Sgt. Barnes, on the other hand, is almost like the Grim Reaper. With his mutilated face, huge arms, hunting knife and green bandana, he fuels the animalistic impulses for immediate revenge and retaliation in the platoon to the point where they become capable of almost anything. He has come to hate the "enemy" to the point where he is capable of putting a pistol to the head of a small Vietnamese girl to get information. Perhaps his only value is that he understands the psychology of the NKVD very well. Sgt. Barnes is intended to represent "the establishment", the alphamale figure who disdains freedom in favor of fascist order, the cracker with an intense desire not only to command but to punish dissent severely.
Elias in his own way is a disillusioning figure because though he is a patriot he is completely out of his element: the cowardly Lieutenant who doesn't have a fifth of the control over his own men that Barnes himself does also idolizes him, and ignores Elias' advice during combat in favor of more aggressive approaches. Barnes himself fears Elias because he sees a mirror image of his own twisted soul in the man but is no longer able to return to a place of purity. Elias knows the war is futile but refuses to leave his men. Barnes refuses to surrender because he believes he can control everything and has the pride of Moloch.
An inevitable collision of wills occur between these two men, leaving Chris almost completely crazed. He knows he has to do something but does not have Elias' courage and is terrified, as he should be, of Barnes.
These two titanic figures do not represent the whole of the film, however. The combat scenes are horrifying and Stone managed to bring out the best and worst in human nature from each character very realistically. Some kindle hope and some are resigned to death. The beginning of the film features an ambush by the Vietcong which leaves one seemingly warmhearted, brand new recruit dead.
Along with Elias' death, or perhaps even more so, this was the most difficult to endure for me: the pointless snuffing out of human life that these kind of conflicts consist of. All it takes is one bullet or one bomb--made by the hands of either side - to maim or destroy a life forever. This is an absolute masterpiece from an uneven director and truly deserves its debut here on Blu ray; some 25 years after its creation. [JNY] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Stone
Audio Commentary by Military Advisor Dale Dye
Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Oliver Stone
Flashback to Platoon: Snapshot in Time: 1967 – 1968; Creating the ’Nam; Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon
Documentaries: One War, Many Stories; Preparing for ’Nam
Vignettes: Caputo & the 7th Fleet; Dye Training Method; Gordon Gekko
Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots