Film Review: Full Metal Jacket (1987)


Timing is everything, even for film makers who earned reputation of the Seventh Art deities. Films can easily fail for merely being made too early or too late. it tended to be the latter in case of Stanley Kubrick, American director famous for spending many years in meticulous preparations for each new film. The most telling example is the penultimate title in his filmography, 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket.

The film is based on The Short Timers, 1979 novel by American writer Gustav Hasford, inspired by his own experiences as US Marine in Vietnam War. The protagonist and narrator, played by Matthew Modine, is James T. “Joker” Davis, one of many recruits who at the beginning arrives to Parris Island where he would go through basic training. He and his comrades are subjected to brutal regimen by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by Lee Ermey), drill instructor determined to destroy any sense of individuality, install iron discipline and turn young men into efficient killing machines. One of the recruits is Leonard “Goomer Pyle” Lawrence (played by Vincent D’Onofrio), overweight and not particularly bright man whose initial inability to adhere to Hartman’s high standards makes him the favourite target of Sergeant’s verbal and physical abuse. He nevertheless begins to improve but Sergeant fails to see that he has succeeded too much in instilling murderous instincts in young man, which would have bloody consequences. The plot switches to Vietnam where Joker, now promoted to Sergeant and assigned to military newspaper as reporter, has relative easy time in the rear of the front, which he likes, unlike his combat-hungry photographer Rafterman (played by Kevyn Major Howard). Things change with 1968 Thet Offensive during which Joker is forced to take part in combat and later assigned with Rafterman to report about Battle of Hue. There, in the ruins of an ancient city, he would meet Sergeant “Cowboy” Evans (played by Arliss Howard), his old friend from Parris Island, but also experience horrors of war in more personal way.

Even before premiere Full Metal Jacket created a lot of publicity due to Kubrick’s methodical pre-production which involved one of the more spectacular casting processes in history of Hollywood, which include 3000 prospective actors sending audition tapes. The most important part of casting, however, was, uncharacteristically, result of an improvisation and happy accident. Lee Ermey, former US Marine drill instructor during Vietnam War, was originally brought as technical advisor, but his expertise and creativity with language impressed Kubrick so much that he gave him role. Character of Sergeant Hartman is arguably the most memorable in the film and this role cemented path to Ermey’s career as character actor in decades to come. The other great acting performance came from Vincent D’Onofrio, young and relatively unknown actor who impressed Kubrick with his presence and later deliberately made himself grotesquely fat in order to play the role of unfortunate Marine as convincingly as possible. D’Onofrio is perfect in this role that requires him to transform from innocent youth and helpless victim into homicidal lunatic. That was excellent springboard for a long a fruitful career in which D’Onofrio would become one of the most recognisable character actors in Hollywood. Those two performances easily overshadowed Matthew Modine who acts very well, but whose bespectacled and arguably “normal” character for the most part looks and acts passive in comparisons with other, seemingly more war-affected characters.

However, despite all of his and other peoples’ talents invested in Full Metal Jacket, this film had misfortune to be released half a year after Platoon, film with similar theme that won Oscar and was considered to be, at least if Hollywood was concerned, the last word on Vietnam War. Inevitable comparisons between Kubrick’s and Oliver Stone’s work point to Kubrick’s film being more polished, with each scene being meticulously framed and made with great sense of style, but in this particular case it worked against Full Metal Jacket. Unlike Platoon, made by actual Vietnam War veteran and therefore more authentic and passionate, Kubrick’s film looked cold, detached and more exercise in style than actual story. The narrative structure, based on two different parts, also works against the film. The first half dealing with training of US Marines is perfect piece of film making and economical story telling. The second part, that takes place in Vietnam (perfectly reconstructed on English locations), almost looks like uninspired sequel, made in the form of at times memorable, but often unconnected vignettes and the finale, although well-made in technical sense, lacks the emotional impact that Oliver Stone’s film had. Music soundtrack by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian (credited as “Abigail Mead”) is also disappointing, especially when compared with 1960s pop songs that play in the rest of the film. Ironically, Kubrick’s godlike status and clear anti-war stance of the film saved Full Metal Jacket from criticism that would doomed film that features very popular line of dialogue which is now associated with sexual stereotypes of Asian women. This film is a disappointment, but disappointment by someone like Kubrick is nevertheless much better than pleasant surprises by most other film makers.

RATING: 7/10 (++)

Blog in Croatian
Blog in English
Leofinance blog @drax.leo
Cent profile
Minds profile
Uptrennd profile

Unstoppable Domains:
Rising Star game:

BTC donations: 1EWxiMiP6iiG9rger3NuUSd6HByaxQWafG
ETH donations: 0xB305F144323b99e6f8b1d66f5D7DE78B498C32A7

Movie URL:
Critic: AA

Simple Posted with Ecency footer

3 columns
2 columns
1 column