This is not a film for the faint-hearted. I am not faint-hearted, but I’m also not that keen on war films. My one exception so far is Full Metal Jacket, which is coincidentally another film about the Vietnam War. Both of them aren’t my usual cup of tea, but it’s like I’ve said before: I can recognise a good film when I see one.
I don’t know how much of a difference there is between the Redux version and the original release, other than the running time being 202 minutes against the original’s 153 minutes. I’m assuming that the film narrative, plot and ending stays the same. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong…
So, yeah, the topic of the film is rather grim. The main character played by Martin Sheen (Willard) goes on what can only be described as a suicide mission to kill a crazed, rogue Special Forces Officer who went AWOL (Kurtz) and set up his own renegade army in cambodia. But you can’t deny it catches the bleakness if war quite well, along with the extremes of relief you’ll find at war:
The Cabin Fever an action-hungry soldier feels when waiting for orders after sitting stagnate for too long, shown at the very beginning of the film, and the levels of insanity some soldiers go through to get some normality back in their life in the middle of a long, endless mission.
Obviously I’m referring to the Surfer Soldiers. To the normal person, accepting a mission based on the ability to surf might seem ludicrous, but to the Lueitennant Colonel in charge (Bill Kilgore), meeting with Willard to take him to the Veit Kong River, it’s a fantastic idea! And not just that, but when the proverbial hits the fan, he’s still expecting his men to surf through the waters even under enemy fire.
I don’t know if we’re meant to believe so many years of active service has made Kilgore crazy, or if he signed up and lasted so long because he was crazy from the very beginning, but either way, his name says it all…
The thing is, this being a war film, I expected it to be like the others I’ve seen. Bridge on th River Kwai, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Dirty Dozen, films like that, where, alright, the characters might not be perfect angels but there’s a very set Good vs Evil, Us vs Them feel to it. Our good side can do no wrong because they’re defeating the evil enemies. This is another film I went into blind, not knowing much about the film other than it being set during the Viet Nam war.
This film is not as clean cut. If there’s one thing that hits you throughout all the film it is that The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few, like many other war films. But the enemy in the other war films are very much portrayed as being in with the side of the enemy (All Germans Are Nazis, All Ally Traitors are Nazis, switch relevance to the relevant national enemy etc etc). With Apocolypse Now, the further along the movie got, the more desperate Willard got and it meant there was a wider definition of Enemy. He was to complete his mission using any means necessary, and if that meant he’d have to kill people getting in the way of his mission because they were, for all intents and purposes, enemies, so be it. But their deaths lead to him completing his mission sooner, which meant the death of the main enemy, which meant The Many could survive and live.
I think if he’d have been part of a group of soldiers, it would have been easier to see them as good actions, but for some part of the film, it felt like it was just one desperate man who’d lost all of his morals just to see an end. And that’s probably intended.
That’s probably how war really is.
Personally I… well, enjoyed seems the wrong word so I’ll go with “remained interested for the whole film”. I won’t go out of my way to watch it again, because it really isn’t my usual cup of tea, but this film was good. The acting was amazing, the camera work was fantastic and I found the plot, although difficult to stick with at times, was rolled out with perfect realism. It’s no wonder this film is critically acclaimed.
It is very much worth at least the one watch for those people like me who are missing out on the classics.