Honors World Lit
January 9th, 2016
A Platoon Like No Other
It is difficult to describe Platoon to someone accustomed to contemporary action films and even harder to a typical, thrill seeking audience. Platoon is a deep, heavy, and immersive film directed by Oliver Stone. A former US infantryman, Stone's movie Platoon(1986) places the viewer in Chris Taylor’s (Charlie Sheen) leather boots as he encounters his tour of duty with Bravo Company, 25th Infantry Division, near the border of Cambodia. The movie focuses on Chris Taylor, an educated white infantryman who dropped out of college to volunteer in America’s glorious fight against communism. Taylor unexpectedly finds himself in the middle of a feud in his platoon during one of America’s deadliest wars. Taylor then proceeds to endure the violence, confusion, and euphoria of the Vietnam War; his experience is shocking to his core.
Platoon is not your average blood and guts war movie. In the first couple minutes of Platoon, signs of a terrifying hell are perceptible. As Taylor is literally fresh off the plane, he studies the faces of battle worn veterans, a scene of clever camera work by cinematographer Robert Richardson. Richardson’s work is a ground-level view of war because he utilizes sound effects that correlate perfectly with the camera work, creating an intense, realistic, and oddly euphoric life of American soldiers for the audience. Taylor’s unique platoon consists of personable soldiers that viewers may find themselves relating to. Subtle conversations between these soldiers allude to topics about racism and life after the war. Platoon also exposes acts by these soldiers that shatter our expectations of 20th century warfare. Standard military rule did not exist because respect was gained by experience and veterans Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias Grodin (William Dafoe) convey that this was exactly the case. The innocent are ignored and left to evolve on their own. Stone geniusly expresses this idea through the transformation that Taylor and his fellow soldiers undergo as the film progresses. Barnes, the unofficial big honcho, represents something so complicated but simple: the effect war bears on the soul.
The look and feel of Platoon reaches across a viewer’s emotional spectrum. Battle scenes at times were oddly comedic but horrifying. This could be due to limited access to high quality effects in 1986. Casual film viewers will just have to push these criticisms aside and actively immerse themselves into the battle with the aid of Stone’s engaging sound effects that seemingly carry you into a fearful state. With a higher budget (Platoon’s was $6 million) and the latest technology, Platoon’s battle scenes would be on par with Saving Private Ryan. The battle scenes, however, were a game changer for the film industry for its time. It was a shock in 1986 to see a film with such truthful, frightening detail. Stone further expands this shock by expertly using classical music to build suspense before battle, manipulating a viewer’s emotions. “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber is beautiful and absolutely perfect for Platoon especially since ambushes interrupt the score as well as the soldiers’ sanity. Common soldier activities mixed with dirty humor completely wipe a viewer’s expectation of what is to come. Towards the end of the movie, I could barely keep my veteran war movie viewer self together. For example, the raping and burning of a Vietnamese village suspected to be Vietcong sent shivers down my spine. There was no nudity or actual showing of the rape, but seeing characters the audience has grown to know commit such awful acts is horrific. Oliver Stone shows how disadvantaged the most powerful country in the world is to the fast moving, guerilla fighting, sandal-wearing, Vietcong. As the VC begins to swarm Taylor’s platoon in the final battle, quick flashes of Vietnamese running past envelopes the audience into the panic and confusion of guerilla warfare.
The amount of detail in Platoon is astounding, and it would take countless pages to analyze every detail Oliver Stone geniusly creates. Vietnam shaped modern warfare for the rest of eternity; Platoon fully shows us why. If you do choose to watch this excellent film, do not be surprised at the end when you find yourself depressed and in shock. Oliver Stone wanted you to feel that, he wanted you to feel the change that Vietnam inflicted on him and his platoon. Vietnam changed these soldiers, Platoon will change you.