Tuesday, August 28, 2012

762. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Running Time: 116 minutes
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Gustav Hasford, Michael Herr, Stanley Kubrick, from the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford
Main Cast: Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, Adam Baldwin
Click here to view the trailer


Someday I'll come to this blog, much like I've just done and I'll write my last post for this blog and I wonder what that will feel like. For now, however, I only come to write the last of the Kubrick reviews and it's kind of a milestone for me, realizing that these nine films are now behind me, no longer able to be looked forward to.

"Full Metal Jacket" is the last Stanley Kubrick entry in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and unfortunately, in my opinion, it's also one of the worst entries. "Full Metal Jacket" is a war film and like any soldier, we start out in boot camp, as a group of new United States Marine Corps recruits find themselves on Paris Island at the mercy of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (Ermey). The main members of our group are Joker (Modine), Cowboy (Howard) and Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (D'Onofrio), who, due to his constant mistakes, mess-ups and inability to do what the others can, earns the wrath of Hartman. Leonard is constantly ridiculed and even physically abused by Hartman, as the Gunnery Sgt. tries hard to build Lawrence into a proud Marine. From there, we jump into the heat of battle, as we follow Joker, now graduated from Paris Island and working as a journalist for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, rarely seeing action, instead reporting on it.  When a platoon of North Vietnamese attempts to takeover the base, causing full scale attacks, Joker and fellow comrade in journalism, Rafterman are sent to Phu Bai. Later, the two meet up with Cowboy and his platoon and encounter sniper fire and several of their men are lost.

If you've read it once, you've read it a hundred times - war films are not my bag, baby! I just find absolutely no interest in the subject and therefore war films have a really hard time appealing to me. I can probably count on one hand the number of war movies that have actually made an impression on me and appealed to my personal tastes. The biggest complaint that the general public have about "Full Metal Jacket" is that they LOVE the first half of the film, but despise the second half. I can understand that argument and in fact, I'd be hard pressed to disagree with it. For me, it's because the first half isn't set in the heat of battle and instead gives us a serious glimpse of what life is like in boot camp for wannabe Marines. I was able to sympathize and connect with the character of Leonard Lawrence, because if I were ever to go to boot camp, I'd probably have the same struggles he had (pull-ups ARE a son of a bitch!). I found much more interest and connection lying with those characters that existed in the first half of the film, than I did with the characters that emerged during the second act.

Now then, do I understand why the film is broken into two separate parts, almost resembling two separate films, save for the appearance in both parts of the character Joker? Yes. It's no secret that the film stands to show the dehumanization of soldiers during the Vietnam War. The first part is someone conditioning them to be robots, killers, inhumane and the second part is them putting that training into action, actually becoming the killer inhumane robots that they were trained to be:

This is my rifle. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace.

Why do men become numb in the face of war? Why are men fueled with hate in the face of war? Kubrick tries to answer some of these questions within "Full Metal Jacket" by focusing on the central character of Joker and showing us his dehumanization from beginning (a wisecracking kid being screamed at by Gunnery Sgt. Hartman) to his killer robot end (singing with his platoon, proud to be a killer).  Trust me folks, you've never seen such ugliness look so beautiful, as Kubrick makes the flames, blood, guts and bullets of Vietnam look like artwork. The first half will entertain you more and you'll be sad when it ends. The second half is more poignant, more serious and just a better looking film. The film as a whole didn't work entirely for me, but I understand why it's included and even I'd have a hard time denying this movie "must see" status, despite my mediocre feelings toward it.

RATING: 6/10  It just didn't hit me the way that it obviously hit others, but everyone should probably see it at least once, if nothing more than to say they've seen it.


As per usual with these dedication weeks, allow me to bend your ear just a little bit more and talk, for just a moment, about Stanley Kubrick.

I've heard a lot of people say that Stanley Kubrick was ahead of his time. "Oh that Stanley K. man, he was just flat out ahead of his time. He was making pictures that no one had seen before and filming them in a way that no one had experienced before!" However, to say that Stanley Kubrick was ahead of his time, is to imply that eventually director's started making films as good as or better that the films Stanley made and that isn't true. No, Stanley Kubrick was neither ahead of his time, nor behind his time - he existed in his own time. If "A Clockwork Orange" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" were released tomorrow, for the first time, they'd be just as fantastic and innovative as they were three decades ago. People's draws would still drop, people wouldn't accuse these films of being dated or behind their time and people would go just as gaga today as they did in the 60s and 70s. Kubrick is not my favorite director and he probably would just barely make it into my top twenty directors, but I'm still sound minded enough to say that he was an absolutely mesmerizing filmmaker, one that deserves every piece of credit that he gets showered with. You don't just view a Kubrick movie, but instead you experience it. You watch the colors and angles of the picture float across your screen and you just absorb everything that Kubrick is feeding you. His films deserved to be appreciated not for the great acting or the great stories, but for the total experience that surpassed great acting and great storytelling. I'm grateful that I've allowed myself to spend a week (or two) with Stanley Kubrick, so that I could get a better grasp of his work, appreciate him more and understand him better. None of his films were rated below a '6' and I think that in time, some of those lower rated ones will even grow on me. For now I close Kubrick Week, but that's the beauty of being a film lover, you can always go back to the beginning and relive the magnificence.

(Some ratings have changed since their initial review. Any ratings revisions will be discussed in the monthly RECAP, at the beginning of September.)

1. Barry Lyndon
2. A Clockwork Orange
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
4. Dr. Strangelove...
5. Paths of Glory
6. The Shining
7. Lolita
8. Full Metal Jacket
9. Spartacus

Everything from #6 up I'd consider very good - excellent. It's also worth noting that I'd probably put "Eyes Wide Shut" and "The Killing" over "Barry Lyndon" as far as best Kubrick flicks go, but they weren't included in THE BOOK.


Say Anything (1989 - Cameron Crowe)
The Ballad of Narayama (1984 - Shohei Imamura)
She's Gotta Have It (1986 - Spike Lee)
Do the Right Thing (1989 - Spike Lee)

August 28, 2012  2:12am

1 comment:

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