One man’s journey from boot camp to war is depicted in what is hailed as one of Stanley Kubrick’s best.
A group of young recruits enters the Marine Corps boot camp as they prepare for the Vietnam War. They include J.T. Davis, whose comical routines earn him the nickname Joker; Leonard Lawrence, a pudgy man who is nicknamed Gomer Pyle; and Texas-born Cowboy. Their drill sergeant is Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, who pushes the young cadets to their limits, notably Pyle. Despite Joker’s attempt to help Pyle, Pyle’s constant mistakes face not only the wrath of Hartman, but the entire platoon. However, an incident on graduation night nearly changes Joker’s life.
Joker has become a war correspondent for Stars and Stripes. Assisted by photographer Rafterman, Joker covers any news involving the field yet has not been involved in any combat himself. When he informs the staff of a possible attack during the holiday of Tet, he is met with resistance. That is, until it turns out to be true. Joker is then asked to go with Rafterman to Phu Bai, where he finds old friend Cowboy, who is now a sergeant with the Lusthog Squad. It is then during the Battle of Hue that everyone’s lives, notably Joker’s will change in a way that makes his last night in boot camp seem like nothing.
The late Stanley Kubrick has brought to life some novel greats and adds his own spin on the material. They include Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which was a breakthrough role for Malcolm McDowell, and Stephen King’s The Shining, which gave Jack Nicholson one of his most iconic roles in his career. For this Vietnam War-era film, Kubrick took the semi-autobiographical novel “The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Hasford also contributed to the film’s screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
The film’s intriguing factor is that the film is depicted in two parts, both revolving around the psyche of war and its impact on the human mind. Matthew Modine’s Joker is the primary focus as he goes from Marine Corps recruit to a war correspondent who is forced to experience combat first hand, changing his life in a way he never thought. He comes across first as a comedian, hence his nickname, and as a mentor to the bullied Pyle, played by Vincent D’Onofrio in what could be considered a breakout role. While Joker attempts to “transform” into a “killer” while training in boot camp, he still has a sense of fear of being in combat. In quite a turn, he explains to a commanding officer during his time in Phu Bai that he sports a helmet that reads “Born to Kill” and have a peace button on his uniform to describe the duality of man, a theory of Carl Jung.
The film’s highlight in terms of the boot camp sequence is the performance of R. Lee Ermey as Gunner Sgt. Hartman. A former Marine in real life, Ermey had ad-lib his entire dialogue after shouting an order to director Kubrick and making him instinctively stand up, which earned him the role in the first place. Ermey truly brings it in the role of Hartman with his perfect manner, insulting the recruits at all directions. The film would help Ermey into a successful career in films, including his role as the terrifying Sheriff Hoyt in the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its 2006 prequel.
The war, depicted in the second part of the film, truly is outstanding in terms of execution and depiction of what transpired. Adam Baldwin, who has had his share of tough guy roles in 1980’s My Bodyguard, and in 1996’s Independence Day, churns out one of his toughest roles in the role of the violent-prone Animal Mother. The film does bring both a disturbing look at how some military officers treat the likes of the Viet Cong as well as a sense of light-heartedness when Joker reunites with old boot camp buddy Cowboy. However, when it comes to Kubrick, disturbing is the name of the game. In one shocking scene, Joker and Rafterman watch as a helicopter gunner shoots random Vietnamese farmers due to a theory that “those who run are VC” and those who stand still are “well-disciplined VC”. It is that mentality that plagues many of the characters at war in the film.
Full Metal Jacket is truly one of Kubrick’s best films, depicting the mentality of the mind during the Vietnam War in the form of a gradual transformation from a young cadet to a war correspondent forced to make a decision that changes his life forever. A true war epic.
WFG RATING: A
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Natant/Stanley Kubrick Productions film. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Producer: Stanley Kubrick. Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford; based on the novel “The Short-Timers” by Hasford. Cinematography: Douglas Milsome. Editing: Martin Hunter.
Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Kevyn Major Howard, Arliss Howard, Ed O’Ross, John Terry, Kieron Jecchinis, Kirk Taylor, Tim Colceri, Bruce Boa, Papillon Soo Soo, Ngoc Le.