Saturday, 4 June 2011
'Apocalypse Now' Review
The film focuses on special operations vet Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) as he begins what will turn out to be his final mission in ‘Nam, despite his dependency on front-line life and quiet relish in the strife of battle. He must travel up the Nung River into Cambodia to find the rogue factor, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a decorated soldier and member of the Green Berets who has seemingly gone insane. What follows is a sprawling two and a half hour journey into the black heart of the Vietnam War, as Willard’s Patrol Boat Erebus and its ragtag crew (Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and a young Laurence Fishburne) experience firsthand the varying ways people submit to the violent world of the jungle and its ways. Robert Duvall’s Bill Kilgore provides a source of blackly comic insanity through his love of surfboards, napalm, and Wagner, that steadily gets stripped down further and further into the jungle; self preservation and the sound of gunfire coalesce into a heady mix that results in the final, total disconnect of Kurtz from the supposed reality of the war surrounding him.
Apocalypse Now really succeeds in evoking the haunting, ambivalent quality of the war; at once repulsive and terribly attractive on a primal level, as the whole thing plays out as a slow-burning fever; from the outset, Willard’s perspective as narrator seems somewhat less than grounded, with Sheen’s turn being one of a number of strong performances across the film as a whole. His Willard is quietly strong even as he clearly frays along at the edges, with the steady transformation of the likes of Sam Bottom’s Lance offering a taste of what will finally come to be found in the bloody temple of Kurtz; the final pit-stop of a New Hollywood bad trip that could only be complete with the addition of Dennis Hopper’s court jester Photojournalist. By the time we reach Cambodia, and these characters (and their actors) have been allowed to fully realise their delirium, the film has – quite ably – undergone a total shift in tone.
This is strongly aided by the masterful cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, creating spectacular vistas of violence interspersed with the natural, haunting beauty of the jungle when quiet. When paired with the adept editing throughout, the film is a total visual feast, only then to be aided with a suitably eerie electronic score that comes to bow down to the pleasures of carnival of war in peak moments like ‘Do Lung.’ And then of course there is The Doors, fittingly appropriate for a film so feverish and free.
This is the war film to lord over all war films since; there is no didacticism, there are no heroes, there is no worthy kernel. There is only the power of war to reduce the human soul to horrible, dark places of violence and hallucination that are nevertheless utterly engrossing to watch, and seemingly as horrifically engrossing to experience. Coppola’s work is a masterpiece; a feather in a cap already brimming. If, like me, you’ve gone this long without seeing it, see it now. And see it in the cinema, on the front row, with the speakers blasting “Ride of the Valkyries” straight at your face.