Today! Because I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture, and kill them –
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (x4)
Starring Matthew Modine (x2), Vincent D’Onofrio (x4), R. Lee Ermey (x4), Adam Baldwin (x2), Arliss Howard (x2), Dorian Harewood, Ed O’Ross (x2), Kevyn Major Howard, John Terry
Stanley Kubrick hadn’t released a film since 1980’s The Shining when Full Metal Jacket finally hit theaters in the summer of ’87, so you know seven-year-old Joe was first in line, eschewing the likes of Harry and the Hendersons, Dragnet, and Benji the Hunted at the General Cinema. Little did I know that this film would inspire one of the great thinkers of our time, Luther Campbell, to later pen the now immortal ode to love and lust “Me So Horny,” and become an icon for free speech in the process. Nope, soon-to-be third grader Joe was just reveling in the blanket party and ubiquitous vulgarity, not even questioning if ten dollars was a good price for a Vietnamese hooker.
No, come on, I didn’t see Full Metal Jacket in theaters when I was seven! What do you think, my parents were monsters? They cut me off from renting R-rated movies after the whole Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors fiasco, so they certainly weren’t going to take me to see Private Pyle’s murderous bathroom breakdown, no matter what a Barry Lyndon fan I might have been in those days!
Full Metal Jacket is legitimately two movies slammed together to create a slightly uneven product, even though neither half of the film is particularly flawed. The first section is the more memorable and arguably better part – the Parris Island boot camp sequence, featuring the world’s introduction to the great R. Lee Ermey, former drill instructor playing a drill instructor here and forever afterward, and to future Orson Welles/Bug in an Edgar suit/Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk portrayer Vincent D’Onofrio. Matthew Modine’s Joker, while basically the main character, functions better as the bridge into the second half – the Tet Offensive and harrowing sniper sequence that closes the movie. It’s Joker’s journey we’re on, seeing how the horror of their basic training shapes him straight through into the war itself.
Really, it’s a shame these weren’t two separate films, as I think the second half gets overlooked and undervalued due to the amazing first section. With the possible exception of Apocalypse Now, no film shaped the perception of Vietnam as mad tumult like Full Metal Jacket. The excellent if a bit straightforward Platoon feels like Missing in Action by comparison – it’s not gung-ho, “War is noble” propaganda like virtually every WWII flick pumped out in the ’40s, but it certainly doesn’t have the raw, jangling intensity or chaotic artistry of Apocalypse and Jacket. The second half of the film is as good as any war picture every made, and nothing has ever compared to Jacket‘s basic training. But they don’t fit together very neatly, leaving you scrambling to get your bearings in the transition.
The only Oscar nomination the film received was Kubrick’s 13th and final, for co-adapting Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short Timers. As I may have mentioned earlier, one of the great crimes in cinema history is Stanley Kubrick’s lack of Academy Award wins – only nabbing one for 2001‘s Special Effects, a technically competitive award in ’68, but with only two nominees. He was 0 for 5 for Screenplays, 0 for 4 Directing, and 0 for 3 Producing. And look, I know, the Academy Awards are ultimately only a hair more important than the utterly worthless Golden Globes, but this is the information that travels down through history. Some people can name the first Best Picture winner, but you’ve encountered a true cinema fanatic who knows the other two nominees from 1929, never mind all the other random ’29 movies. These dumb award shows serve as a helpful guidepost for folks interested in exploring older films, so I think glaring, horrible oversights are somewhat important.
This is Kubrick’s fourth list film, following #245 Lolita, #178 The Killing, and #121 The Shining, and it is apparently my favorite movie from 1987! Take that #237 The Princess Bride, #373 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, #354 The Untouchables, #198 Spaceballs, and #341 Good Morning, Vietnam!
D’Onofrio (#357 JFK, #376 Men in Black, #219 The Player) joins the Four-Timers, alongside Toy Story veteran Ermey (#137 I, #240 II, #152 III). Spotlight!
Coming tomorrow! The client leans forward and says “I have the same tie as you, only the pattern is reversed.” And then he drops dead, face down on the table. Alive and then dead. Brain aneurysm. Maybe everyone has a sentence like that, a little time bomb –
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