Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "The first casualty of war is innocence."Length: 120 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
On June 5, 2001, "Platoon" (1986) was released on a Special Edition DVD, and this gives us an opportunity to take another look at this powerful movie. Platoon won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Oliver Stone). The film features a young cast that includes Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, and Johnny Depp.
"Platoon" is the film that made writer-director Oliver Stone famous, and he went on from there to write and direct "Wall Street" (1987), "Born on the Fourth of July"(1989), The Doors" (1991), JFK (1991), "Heaven & Earth" (1993), "Natural Born Killers" (1994), "Nixon" (1995), and "Any Given Sunday" (1999). Stone has shown a particular interest in how Americans have been affected by the Vietnam War, and "Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "Heaven & Earth" form a trilogy on that theme.
"Platoon" is based on Oliver Stones own personal experience, and this makes the audio track on the Special Edition DVD containing Stones commentary especially interesting. Stone tells how at age 21 he dropped out of college and volunteered for combat in Vietnam. He wound up serving in four different units there in 1967-68, and the characters in "Platoon" are composites drawn from all four units. The character in the film who is most like Stone is 19-year-old Chris Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen. Its intriguing that in his commentary, Stone sometimes seems not to draw a sharp distinction between himself, the actor Charlie Sheen, and the fictional character Chris Taylor.
The Special Edition DVD contains a worthwhile documentary called "Tour of the Inferno," which features interviews with the cast, crew, and director. Here we learn that the films budget was a modest six million dollars, and that it was shot in the Philippines. The U.S. Department of Defense declined to cooperate in the making of Platoon, but some equipment was obtained from the Philippine military. Stone was a stickler for detail, and before shooting started he required the actors to go through a two-week training course that resembled boot camp. The actors went on training missions every night to insure that they would be sleep-deprived, as are actual combat troops.
Another interesting audio track on the Special Edition DVD is the commentary of military advisor Dale Dye, a retired officer with thirty months of Vietnam combat experience. He put the actors through their military training and tried to make sure that everything in the film would ring true to Vietnam veterans. Dye keeps popping up in the film as well. Hes inside one of the body bags, his voice comes over the radio, and he fires the door gun from a helicopter. He also appears as Captain Harris, the company commander, and in one scene where Harris surveys the aftermath of a brutal battle, Dyes face is a study in overwhelming sadness.
"Platoon" opens in late 1967 with young Private Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) arriving in Vietnam to serve in the Second Platoon of Bravo Company of the 25th Infantry Division somewhere near the Cambodian border. Taylor quickly sees that morale is low as the men battle heat, mud, stinging insects, and poisonous snakes. Taylor immediately hates it there, and while digging a foxhole says, "Somebody once wrote, Hell is the impossibility of reason. Thats what this place feels like--hell."
We soon learn that Taylor, a volunteer who comes from a middle-class family and has a year or two of college, is different from the other soldiers, who are draftees. One night in the jungle as he sits near a deteriorating statue of Buddha, he writes to his grandmother, "I guess Ive always been sheltered and special. I just want to be anonymous like everybody else. Do my share for my country. Live up to what Grandpa did in the First World War and Dad did in the Second. Well, here I am all right. With guys no one really cares about. They come from the end of the line, most of em. Small towns you never heard of ... Two years high schools about it ... Theyre poor. Theyre the unwanted. Yet theyre fighting for our society and our freedom."