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.
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 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!!