Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick’s penultimate film trains its eye on the Vietnam War, specifically on a Marine nicknamed Joker (played by Matthew Modine). Kubrick picks up the story as Joker goes through basic training under an overbearing drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), which makes up the first half of the film. This section remains extraordinarily powerful, and as much as Ermey’s role continues to be imitated and parodied (often by Ermey himself), it’s remarkable that he is still so powerful. Kubrick does not flinch, even for an instant, from the dehumanizing mechanism that boot camp operates as, and it’s profoundly unsettling while still being darkly and uncomfortably humorous. So it’s disappointing when the second half of the film moves to Vietnam, and becomes more or less a conventional war movie. It’s an oddity for Kubrick to make a movie that shifts so radically in tone; in fact, his consistency of tone is one of his signatures as a filmmaker in my view. It’s hard for me to see what the desired effect of this radical shift could be, because if anything, the second half of the film undermines the first. Joker seems basically unaffected by his experiences at basic training, as severe as they were, and encounters the same variety of gung-ho cutthroats and scared man-children among the soldiers that is endemic to every Vietnam movie I’ve ever seen. And then it ends in a typically portentous way. So what’s the point? 6/10
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