Full Metal Jacket (1987 USA/UK)

full m jFlaming fudge packs. I’m already suffering flash backs. The film that spawned a legendary catchphrase that shames oriental women everywhere. But this review won’t love you long time. I won’t even charge you five bucks for lookee lookee. Like reading a history book, watching an occasional war movie is good for the soul. It puts one’s problems in perspective. But this is the Magical Mystery Tour of war cinema – like Paul McCartney, all Stanley Kubrick did was bung the following onto a pie chart: 1) Basic training. 2) Suddenly in Vietnam and lulled into a false sense of security. 3) A heavy firefight for the denouement.

F*****g Aida! this is one of those barren slices of “product”Β  that make you feel like Hollywood should be paying us to sit through their sound and fury that signifies nothing.

And like the Beatles epic fail, this has no sense of flow, of growth, of anything organic. So when separated buddies from basic training are reunited later in the story, their “hail fellow, well met” shtick feels hollow and forced. Many of the plot devices are utterly predictable. Private Pyle telegraphs his breakdown to us at least 10 minutes before it occurs. The hubris and languor of the cast, safe in their city quarters in Vietnam, take every opportunity to tell us how nothing bad could happen, because — after all — it’s Tet, a national holiday. C’mon, Kubrick — you shot this 19 years after the Tet Offensive. You can’t expect us to NOT know what’s coming, when you set it up like that. That day of doom, in which tens of thousands of Viet Cong and NVA troops launched surprise attacks that killed thousands of US soldiers, is rendered utterly devoid of suspense.

I mean, suck my crystal balls! To see something coming a mile away takes the air out of a film. Most of the settings look contrived and “cinematic” rather than natural. In particular, the city scene in Vietnam with the prostitute and the scene where “Joker” and “Rafterman” are hurrying along a road, trying to find the location of the mass grave — both are stuffed to the gills with “period stuff going on”, but one definitely gets the sense that it’s all part of an effort to give the effect, rather than being authentic. Other scenes, such as the firefight at the end, look like they were staged for live theater, with strategically-placed fires (what the hell was burning for hours in those concrete buildings?!), atmospheric smoke, fill lighting, etc.

fmjMany of the minor characters are nothing more than caricatures. A prime example is “doorgunner”, who is straight from central casting as “Gun-crazed Child-killer”. What? Not convinced by watching him shoot fleeing peasants with his machine gun? Well, then he’ll *tell* you that he’s a gun-crazed child-killer as well. Just so there’s no doubt. (Thank you, Captain Obvious) The heavy-handed use of period songs isn’t effective, it’s annoying. Playing “Surfing Bird” at top volume doesn’t add anything to the viewer’s experience. Nor does “Wooly Bully” or “These Boots Were Made for Walking”.

This kind of gimmick is best left to middlebrow action flicks and sad British TV series like “Heartbeat” or “Life On Mars” – not serious war films. But it’s not really a flick about individual people, it’s a movie about the loss of identity and individuality in the context of indoctrination and life-or-death struggles. As in Kubrick’s 2001 the characters are only a mechanism for the themes of the film. It is a deliberately anti-melodramatic film that seeks to create its own formula. But there is no satisfying finale to this saga. Maybe the message after the two hours of grey depression is “War is hell, but Boot Camp is worse.”

No review of this would be complete without some crudely offensive quotes from Lee Ermey’s Drill Instructor Hartman: “I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless…I bet you’re the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around! I’ll be watching you…I don’t like the name Lawrence, only faggots and sailors are called Lawrence. From now on you’re Gomer Pyle… Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down. Do you suck dicks?! ” Hartman is probably the most hateful, forbidding and repulsive character in the history of war films. He’s kicking your ass before he even takes down the name. The only way I can wrap this up is to declare “Is that you, John Wayne?”

full metal jacket

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Comments

  1. Excellent review! You definitely nailed Sergeant Hartman with “He’s kicking your ass before he even takes down the name” ha ha! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Merci…I did not leave my fight in the locker room for this review. πŸ™‚

    Like

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