Wednesday, January 21, 2015

653. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Running Time: 153 minutes
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, from the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Main Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms
Click here to view the trailer


I know, I know, I said I was going to start this season by watching the first two Godfather movies, but when The Godfather, Part I arrived from Netflix today, it was cracked in half and thus, unwatchable. My wife and I scoured through what we had available to us (which isn't much) and happened upon Apocalypse Now, which is currently streaming on Netflix. I figured we could tie it all up into a little Coppola tribute and voila, we're all set. Before I get into the review, I just want to say I hope you all enjoyed the TOP 20 list. I know I'm a sucker for a good list and I had a good time making AND I'm pleased with the finished product. I was worried there for a minute, back in the midst of the season, that it wasn't going to turn out well, but I can honestly say that those twenty movies (plus the Ten Worth Mentioning) were all outstanding films, worthy of their spot on the list. Anyway...NAM!

The film kicks off with Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Sheen) holed up in a hotel room in Saigon, the Vietnam War raging on around him, slowly losing his mind. After the opening montage, accompanied by The Doors' "The End", Willard's solitude is interrupted by two serviceman knocking on his door, carrying him to a cold shower and escorting him to a meeting, where he'll learn of his next mission. Colonel G. Lucas (Harrison Ford) and Lieutenant General Corman (two nods to famous filmmaker's - George Lucas and Roger Corman) brief Willard on Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Brando) who HAS lost his mind and is being charged with the murder of two men who he suspected were double agents, working for the Viet-Cong. He now commands his own troop of rogue locals, who follow him like a God and has stationed himself up the river and into Cambodia. It is Willard's mission to go up river, with a Navy PBR command and terminate Colonel Kurtz. Willard accepts the mission, is given a dossier on Colonel Kurtz, which he reads sporadically on his way up river and through the use of narration, we hear the details on Colonel Kurtz, a father who wants his son to be proud of him, a decorated officer, a member of the Green Beret's and someone who was being positioned to be a General or even a Chief of Staff.The entire middle portion of the film, a good ninety plus minutes, is simply Willard's journey up river, traveling through war torn Vietnam, Coppola spoon feeding us what life was like, in what could only be referred to as the Heart of Darkness.

Man, I have a lot of thoughts running through my head regarding this one, so forgive me if my ideas seem strewn about like the clothes of a college girl home from a party and ready for bed. I'll do my best to keep my thoughts in as much of an order as I can get them in. This will be one of the very few movies that I rate, not based on personal enjoyment, but more based on the rating it really deserves. I didn't care for this movie, I don't mind saying. You know, a lot of times you see a classic movie and you want so bad to like it. I can compare this to my experiences with Citizen Kane. I want to be a Kane bad! I want to intelligently discuss Welles' ideas and themes and talk about how important the film was. But, I can't because I don't really care for it. I always want to like the classics, really. I want to see what others see when they harp about Casablanca or go on and on about what a masterpiece 8 1/2 is. The same could be said for Apocalypse Now, except I'm not sorry that I don't like it, because while I didn't like it, I got it. I understood it and could probably even hold my own if an all out, intellectual discussion got sparked on it. I sat in awe of my television screen during the last forty minutes and if I were just rating that portion, I think I'd break my own ten point scale and give it an 11. It's one of the few times that an American film has really looked flawless and it was flawless! And I don't want to be misunderstood, because there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of American films that I love, most more than this, it's just that usually American films look like movies and foreign films look like films. I'm an average Joe, so calling my favorite movies, MOVIES is okay and occasionally I'll even like a film, but this is an American film that really brings the goods and looks spectacular. Like I said, I sat in awe of those final forty minutes, because few times in my cinematic life have I seen such perfection, such power, such raw emotion, all pouring out simultaneously through the screen and washing over me. This is what FILMS are supposed to be like, this was bigger than grand.

Let's talk about Brando and his Kurtz character. How perfect was it that he didn't show up until the last thirty minutes of the movie? And how even more perfect that we never saw his face completely unobstructed, be it by a shadow or by face paint. The story where this character existed, where he lived and breathed, still couldn't fully unveil him. A character so powerful and so enigmatic that the one story on the face of the Earth where he lives, still didn't have the ability to fully let us inside his head. And I can think of no other actor worthy of portraying him. In fact, while I was watching, the only other actor I could possible picture playing Kurtz would've been Orson Welles, someone who was aging and overweight himself by then, but since we barely even see Kurtz, that could've worked too. Here's my question: Were we supposed to get more of Brando or was the fact that he showed up to set overweight and unprepared the reason why we never even get a good look at his face? If so, maybe he overate and under prepared on purpose - knowing that this was a character who need not see the cylindrical eye of a movie camera. By the time Sheen and crew roll up to, what can only be described as the gates of hell and the magnificent set piece that is Kurtz' hideout, the tension was so thick within me that I could barely sit still.

However, getting to those gates of hell is one massive chore. I can't lie, I was very bored. I'm not a war movie guy and even though I could tell that this film was as genuine as a war movie can get, I just couldn't settle in. Willard's journey up river takes up, like I said, a good hour and a half of screen time and you feel every second of it. But then again, would that final forty minutes be as POWERFUL, if we hadn't just sat through a ninety minute, up river journey? Maybe boredom was the intended reaction, so that when Dennis Hopper started yelling, we knew shit was on. We knew, NOW this is what I've been waiting for, NOW this film pays off and pay off it did. I don't know. I would say, "had they only shortened that middle portion a little, it would've been a lot better", but then you cut away some of the waiting and it's so worth the wait. I really don't know...

My final thoughts are this: I don't know if I ever need to see this movie again. I've experienced (that's a better word - EXPERIENCE) it once and I could make cases for why it should be rated low and why it should be rated high. I could understand someone going '1/10' and understand someone going '10/10'. I tell you this though, whether you love it or hate it, I think we all have to admit that it is a MUST SEE. You wanna' be a film buff? You wanna' see the classics? Start with this, because it barely gets more classic that Apocalypse Now. I wasn't born during 'Nam, I know nothing about 'Nam and I know nothing about war, but I knew it (and THE BOOK confirmed it) that this was what it was like. Experiencing Apocalypse Now was as close to the font lines as I'll ever get and it was enough of a taste to make me count my lucky stars that I never signed up for active duty. It was indeed Hell on Earth and what must it have been like to actually be there? To actually feel the heat of battle on your face, to choke on the smoke and the charred bodies and to hear the screams? To feel the blood splatter across your forehead while you watched your new best friend's knee cap blow off and wonder how long it would be before you were lying beside him? To feel that fear in your heart and then to feel it wash away and to realize you're becoming desensitized....Man...what must it have been like? Apocalypse Now is just a little taste...

RATING: 7/10  Whew! Got a little carried away there. I can't go higher than that, because actually I didn't like the film personally. But anything less than a '7' wouldn't be fair at all.


January 21, 2015  8:00pm


  1. It took a few days for me to get round to forming any sort of reply to this..
    I mean, some films have been pondered on, written about so much there is surely nothing more to say.

    The opening had me instantly gripped.. so utterly powerful and engaging.. (but i'm a 'Doors' generation person, so perhaps unduly influenced?).
    I've seen it a few times.. and I have redux waiting to be seen... (The french plantation owners scene, and others - including, I believe added playboy bunnies) - but I never get round to watching it.
    So what do I make of it as a whole?
    Well, I'm more forgiving of war movies than you are.. so I will go higher.. but not quite to the top. The ending was a bit of a let down... and, if you believe the stories, almost entirely due to Brando's unprofessional behaviour in refusing to turn up, learn lines and being almost unfilmablely (is that a word) overweight..

    1. I've heard other criticisms about the ending, but I was okay with it. In fact, I'd rate the final forty minutes at an easy '10'.


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