Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Everybody’s a little crazy. Even the guys that protect our country with guns.

A young Marine named Davis, aka Joker (Matthew Modine), sees the Vietnam through his eyes and his eyes only. We follow him through the gruesome days of boot-camp under the tutelage of a vicious drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), and then as he ends up becoming a correspondent for Stars & Stripes, where he actually gets to witness and partake in all of the brutal violence he was trained in. Obviously, not everything is as easy as it seems when it comes to taking another human’s life, and that’s the moral problem Davis hits early-on.

I’ve seen this movie about 3 times by now and have yet to let it all sink in and fully hit my brain, head-on with enough understanding and comprehension to make all of my thoughts seem more than just aimless ramblings. Maybe that last sentence didn’t prove to you that I know exactly what I’m talking about but trust me, it’s been awhile since the last time I saw this movie and I’ve come to one assumption, and one assumption only: the war sucks.

By now, everybody knows this as “Kubrick’s two-act film”. The reason it’s called that, is because the first part of the flick plays out so damn differently from the latter, that it’s almost a shock to see it come from the same director, let alone be in the same movie. But have no fear, because no matter where and when Kubrick puts his story, he never loses his grip with what message he’s trying to get across and what exactly can be accomplished with when you have a guy with a head on his shoulders (a crazy head, but a head nonetheless), some extreme skills as a director, and also, the most important factor of all: a camera in your hand.

Just so you know, he's yelling.
Just so you know: he’s yelling.

What makes this movie work so well, even after the 4th time I’ve seen this by now is that Kubrick never dumbs the audience down for the material that he’s showing. However, he also doesn’t allow it to go way too over-your-head neither. He lets his messages and themes play-out, but also gives you something more to think about. Like take for instance, the first act where we see these young, punky kids get beaten, battered, and torn to shreds by this drill sergeant that shows no remorse, never lets them live down a single damn thing, and continues to badger them about being the killing-machines that act first and shoot last. It’s a pretty fucked-up idea that the guy has, but it’s also what the war his in mind as well, and we see just how Kurbick lets us know how messed-up it is with the first-act playing out in the type of way you wouldn’t expect it to go.

This first-half is where I think, and most other people too, the film’s at it’s strongest. It shows you just how hard and brutal it can be to be apart of the army, and still have the right frame-of-mind to believe in everything that you’ve been taught to believe. That’s what our country teaches us, that’s what our politicians teach us, so why not the army? Kubrick really lays down the law with this first-act and we see him tell a simple story, in a simple way, but still give us a compelling-look at something we would have never been able to see before, had it been shown to us by anybody else. Then, it sort of goes down-hill from there.

Actually, that’s not totally correct to say, because the second-half still has it’s moments, but they still aren’t as strong as the ones in the first. After we leave the boot-camp and actually get down and dirty with the battlefield itself, we see how all of these soldiers handle all of the teachings and training they’ve been handed, and use it when necessary  This is where the film get’s really dark, really heavy, and really preachy. Just by watching the first-shot in this movie where all of these young dudes were getting their heads all shaved and groomed for the army, already had me knowing that Kubrick was against the war and felt like it was stupid for us to throw young men like these fellas into it, and be nothing more than meaningless deaths. It’s a sad truth to say, but it is the truth nonetheless and I got that this was the point Kubrick was trying to make, until he continued to bash me over the head, non-stop with it.

By the latter-half of the movie, you start to realize that not only is the war having physical problems with these soldiers, but physical as well. Everybody’s all gung-ho with the violence, loves their guns so much that they just cannot wait to shoot somebody with them, and are a bunch of freaks when they have to come to terms with what they’re fighting for, who they’re fighting for, and what losing a person/fellow solider is all about. I got that they’re going crazy and aren’t very inept with the rest of mankind, but after awhile, it’s just so obvious to sit-through and listen to, that you stop to care after awhile. Kubrick is always known for being the guy who loves to show you something that’s on his mind and usually does it in the most clever way possible, and hell that’s what we all love him for! But here, in this movie and this last-act, we start to lose that sensibility that Kubrick had, the sensibility that made him stand-out from the rest of the crowd and show that he’s working on a higher-level than these other chumps.

Still, as much as I may rag on and on about what he does wrong, Kubrick still did a lot of right in this movie and kept me glued to the screen, even though I knew exactly what happened, where, how, and why. I guess that’s just the problem you run into with most movies when you see them a couple of times, but I was so shocked that I was still able to feel on-edge with everything Kubrick showed, graphic and non-graphic. The war sequences are stunningly shot and make you feel as if you are right there, in the action with them and proves to us all that Kubrick could handle a shaky-cam better than anybody else could. So take that Blair With Project peoples! All seriousness though, whenever Kubrick has a vision in his head, he sticks to it, and never lets it go, no matter how much of his message he may hammer into our skulls.

Maybe the whole point was to make us feel like we were one of the soldiers. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the guy is one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time and really shocked me by how much he was allowed to get away with here. Controversial? You bet your sweet ass it is, but that’s what anti-war films are all about. So, whatever it is that you do, do not, I repeat, DO NOT request this as a movie-viewing on Veteran’s Day, or else you’re going to have some pretty angry vets coming at your neck. Just a fair warning, that’s all.

"I don't mind what type of business you're doing in here, but could you just keep it done at least?"
“I don’t mind whatever type of business you’re doing in here, but could you just keep it down? No? Okay, I’m leaving. Have fun.”

I know it isn’t Kubrick’s style to give into conventions and be like everybody else, but this movie would have greatly benefited from some sort of main character that drives this story the whole way through. Yeah, Matthew Modine is here and is fine as Joker, but still doesn’t seem to be much of an asset to the story, as much as he’s just a reason for us to actually pay attention to all of the crazy shit that’s going on around him. It’s sort of a sad thing to notice, because Modine is a quality actor, but it’s something that I noticed early-on and I wish Kubrick payed more attention to, rather than just going for the gull by trying to look fancy and cool with his style-points. He gets those points, but has to lose character-points as well. Can’t win ’em all, Stanley!

Even though Modine’s character doesn’t supply us with the fuel for the fire, two other actors in this movie do. Vincent D’Onofrio gained a lot of notoriety and in a way, still does to this day because of how much weight he put on for this role as Leonard Lawrence, aka Gomer Pyle. Apparently it was around 80 pounds or something, which to me, sounds like just another night of partying and drinkin’, but I digress. The guy deserves all of the credit he gets for his work here in this movie and not just because he gained all of that poundage, but because the guy makes us actually believe this sweet, kind man can go from being the nice kid who lives next-door, to being the psycho you would never even trust around your kids, let alone next to your own house. D’Onofrio really nails what it’s like to go from being normal, to being a total nut that’s all gung-ho for war, guns, and violence, and shows that the brain-washing techniques it seems like the army uses, isn’t always for the better of man. Maybe for society, but not for the man itself.

However, that’s where R. Lee Ermey comes in and proves, well: that we were right. Ermey is amazing as the drill sergeant that takes no prisoners when it comes to teaching these boys a lesson about what it means to become a solider not just of the war, but of the country as well. Ermey, whether he’s yelling out insults at people or lecturing the boys on how they should not fuck with him or he’ll fuck them right back, Ermey is always interesting, always compelling to watch, and always had me laughing. He’s the main reason why that first-half is so much better than the latter-half, and that’s why it’s a shame to see him and D’Onofrio go and leave us with the presence of Matthew Modine and a bunch of other schmoes that you’ve all seen before, you just don’t know where or when. Not to discredit them or anything, but nobody’s really as stellar as Ermey or D’Onofrio. That’s just the simple fact, Jack. I don’t know who Jack is, but I just wanted to sound cool so leave me alone.

Consensus: Even if Full Metal Jacket isn’t Kubrick’s best, it’s still a heck of a lot better than most cinema out there and proves to you that the war sucks and that everybody who gets involved with it are usually messed-up in the head, dead, or have no chance of understanding what it means to be a human-being, nor do they have a way to understand just what the hell it is that they are fighting for. It’s obvious stuff, but with Kubrick behind the camera: it’s always fascinating.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

No, he is not taking a dump. He IS shooting people.


  1. For me, this is one of the great films about war. It’s not really a film about war but rather de-humanization as it is about this young man who comes to the war as an idealist as he tries to come to terms with what he’s facing. There’s a lot of black humor in that film such as the scene of Pvt. Joker riding in a helicopter while a soldier is shooting people for some sick ass reason. It’s always fun to re-watch because there’s something new to see and it gives you the chance to revisit certain scenes. This is why Stanley Kubrick is among the greats. People will always be watching his films for many years to come and revisit them over and over again. Check out Paths of Glory. It’s a very different film but one that is truly powerful.

    • I saw it and have to put the final touches on that review. As for this one, it’s good but I think that there is plenty of material that’s a tad too heavy-handed, but because it’s Kubrick it’s considered smart, original, and refreshing.

  2. I used to love the first half a lot more, but I’ve definitely come to terms with the second half now. Now I love it as a complete film. I think I’ll need to write about it myself in order to be able to express WHY, lol, but I do.

    Its definitely a great movie, I’d even rank it higher.

    And Ermey was incredible here, wasn’t he? He was born for this role. 😀

    • I agree with Fogs. As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the second half much more. Without both, very different halves, this movie would be far more generic.

      • It would have been more generic and I don’t have much hate against the second-half. It just isn’t as interesting for me as the first was. I also think Kubrick got his point across better.

  3. I was never a big fan of “Full Metal Jacket,” especially when you compare it to, the other main, Vietnam movies, “Apocalypse Now,” and “Platoon,” not only is it, one of the weaker ones of the bunch, it also came out too late. Kubrick’s theme has always been duality of man, maybe most completely so here. It’s the least realistic of the Vietnam films in many ways, more stylized, and false. The first part feels like a Kubrickian hell, and yet, the second part, looks like it was shot on the set of “The Longest Day”. I’ve always like Kubrick, but usually he has something to say about man’s duality, and this is the film, where I wonder, what exactly is he saying about it. He seems to have just deconstructed the theme, and just decided to show these two parts, without either part inherently actually having anything to say about either side. It’s bizarre and strange in fact. I like it, but definitely overrated. I was surprised when it won the 25th Anniversary Muriel Award last week, would never have picked it.

    • It’s the type of movie that makes you think a bit, but for a Kubrick film, not as much and definitely a bit more confusingly. His point gets across, but it was shown way, way better in other flicks that came out before it. Platoon is the one that comes to mind right away and one that I think was a hell of a better movie than this. Obviously, so did the Academy but it just seemed to gel together very well with it’s ideas and themes.

  4. I still remember the final scene of the movie, I still think it’s one of the best war topic movies next to Saving Private Ryan – I need to re-watch this.

  5. The movie’s actually about the Marines, not the army. 😉
    But in any event, this one’s still one of my all time favorites. I can appreciate the whole movie, but that first half is simply classic.

  6. This is, hands down, one of my favourite films. I just think it’s brilliant. I do agree that the first half is probably stronger than the second but there’s just so much depth to it. Without wanting to go all pompous critic, I think it’s a really interesting look at the commercialisation of war and the media aspect of the whole thing.

    • You don’t sound pompous saying that; films, especially Kubrick’s, are meant to be analysed in that much depth – not just speaking of plot, tone or acting. 😛

      • It was interesting to see, but if I remember, they touched a bit on that in Apocalypse Now. Just a bit, but not as much. It was still great to see and don’t worry about sounding pompous. We all do!

  7. It is a good movie, although I must say I’m not a fan of the divide into two parts, with the first (in my opinion being the strongest). Still a movie everyone should have seen at least once.

  8. Nice review. I’m a big Stanley Kubrick fan and while I wouldn’t say this is one of his strongest movies, it sure is a great film. I like the first half more but I still appreciate the second part.

  9. “What is your major malfunction”? I’m not a big Kubrick fan (I know, that’s blasphemy for some people) but this is an intriguing watch. I don’t always buy what Kubrick is preaching but it’s really well done.

  10. When you say, “everybody who gets involved with it are usually messed-up in the head,” are you saying from the beginning, or they become that way? Because the way I see it, the film is a statement about the dehumanising effects of war – not that you’d have to be nuts to join in the first place.

  11. I think this might be one of the top three war films out there. I love your review. I would have rated it a bit higher though. Without the standard plot line, this movie really lets you sink in to the emotions and the overall feel of the movie. I liked not being too attached to the characters.

  12. I go back and forth between this and The Shining being my favorite Kubrick movie. I think this is the better of the two. I’ve seen it a million times, and always pick up something new on each rewatch.

  13. Absolutely loved the first half of the movie, and thought the second was great too (although still more into the first half). A real war classic. Great review!

  14. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film, but I also recall digging the first half much more than the second. It just doesn’t pack the same emotional punch for me with its story, characters, or performances. That being said, as a whole it’s still a great movie. I agree that it could have used a stronger protagonist to latch onto and to form a bond with. Joke/Modine is just so-so for me. D’Onofrio gives a career-high performance as Pvt. Pyle. Your heart breaks for him and in a lot of ways its hard to blame him for flipping out. I think what makes R. Lee Ermey so amazing as a drill sergeant is the fact that he actually was one in real life. He has rich experiences to draw from when creating the character, and as often is the case with writing what you know, some of the best performances involve actors portraying people who aren’t that far off from their true personalities.

    • It’s amazing what Ermey is able to do with such a simple character and actually make us hate him so much, yet laugh our asses off at the same time. All improv, and I liked that a lot.

  15. I disagree with your statement that armed soldiers are “messed-up in the head, dead, or have no chance of understanding what it means to be a human-being.” This is not at all what I believe Kubrick intended and Full Metal Jacket is not the farcical satire on the same level as Team America. It is stark depiction of men who are trained to kill and forced to comply and conform, then launched into a war that which our military was unable to provide support to ground troops. This film does not satirize the military industrial complex or glorify war, it satirizes the bureaucracy and condemns it.

    The film is very similar to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory which depicted a very real time occurrence when the French military attacked itself because one regiment refused to attack the enemy. WWI was a meaningless war, and the soldiers knew it. Vietnam was not any different, and this what is happening in Full Metal Jacket.

  16. Great review of a great film, Dan. I agree with some of the comments above – specifically stating that Kubrick hasn’t made a precursor to Team America, portraying the Marines as “messed up”, but rather he’s made an indictment on the military machine and its inherent dehumanizing of those who enter the meat grinder.

    I often say to people who haven’t seen this film to watch it right alongside Apocalypse Now, for a complete examination of the insanity of war and all its stupidity…..

  17. I have seen this movie so many times. It’s a great film with some impressive performances. The first half is much better than the second, in my opinion.

  18. I have to say I disagree with some of your points about Full Metal Jacket though I really enjoyed reading your review (as always).
    It’s true what they say about this being a two-act film. The first being a lot more focused, character-driven and linear; while the second is a lot more atmospheric, epic and less individualistic. I feel that we are programmed as movie goers to appreciate focused linearity if it’s well constructed over grand, less focused approaches to story telling. Everything Kubrick does with the film, he does it purposefully and he does it extremely well. I love the atmospheric look of the second act and I’m also in awe of the sniper sequence, which probably did more for me than any other moment in the film.
    I think the selection of Mathew Modine is spot-on in that it rightfully allows the film to take on a greater scope, pan out and show us the devastation and the incomparable loss of life that war brings about. It was someone to go back to, but who still allowed the film to take off in a different direction.
    Kubrick said a hell of a lot with this film, and he did with his unique and impossible to imitate style of his. He gave us memorable sequences, great characters and awesome visuals. I couldn’t have asked for more. Certainly a lot better than Barry Lyndon.

  19. I consider this and Apocalypse Now to be two of the best movies about Vietnam. Now granted Vietnam was just a substitute for colonial Africa in Apocalypse Now, but I still think it did a good job of showing many of the same points about the lack of structure on the ground and how killing people was the only thing that the soldiers knew was one of the few proper courses of action.

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