(United States, 1986)

I believe Platoon is the first "serious" movie I paid to see in a movie theater. I know for certain it is the first R-rated "serious" movie I saw, and the first "serious" picture I went back to watch a second time. Locally, Platoon was released at the very end of 1986. When I viewed it for the first time in early 1987, there was already a strong buzz about the film. When I saw it for the second time several months later, it was the frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar, a goal it achieved. My friends were disappointed in Platoon, since it didn't have the rah-rah, John Wayne mentality. As depicted by Oliver Stone, war was neither fun nor exhilarating. I disagreed with my movie-going companions. The film left a powerful impression upon me. Since, at the time, I was about the same age as Charlie Sheen's character, I could relate on a certain, "there but for the grace of God" level. Platoon also piqued my interest in Vietnam to the extent that not only did I do a lot of reading on the subject, but I subsequently rented Apocalypse Now and saw Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill when they were released. Today, Platoon has lost none of its power, despite the passing of more than fifteen years and the growing trend to make war films more bloody and realistic a trend that, I might add, Platoon played a part in initiating.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Platoon recounts the tour of duty of Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), beginning when he arrives, fresh from basic training, and ending when he is helicoptered out after being seriously injured in a major battle. As a new face, Chris gets little respect from those who have been in the war longer than he has. When he reveals that he's an upper middle class college dropout who enlisted because he doesn't believe that only the poor should go to war, another soldier derisively calls him a "crusader." However, after surviving several ambushes and enduring a few times cleaning out the latrines, he develops bonds with his fellows. Chris' loyalty is torn between two of his sergeants: Barnes (Tom Berenger), a gruff, no-nonsense veteran who expects the same degree of homicidal brutality from his men that he himself evidences, and Elias (Willem Dafoe), a fierce fighter who has not lost sight of the fact that the men serving under him are still human beings. Early in the film, there is an undercurrent of tension between Barnes and Elias. After a frightening sequence in which Elias stops Barnes from executing a small Vietnamese child, that tension erupts into a struggle that divides the platoon in two.

Since the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, numerous motion pictures have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to capture one or more aspects of the most contentious American conflict of the 20th century. From this crop, three stand out as defining films: Francis Ford Coppola's sometimes-brilliant, occasionally disjointed Apocalypse Now, Michael Cimino's blistering The Deer Hunter, and Oliver Stone's punishing, personal Platoon. Of this trio, Stone's is the most harrowing and, consequently, the most effective. If Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter are like slaps to the face, Platoon is a punch to the gut. Platoon was honored by the Academy with four Oscars: Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Picture. This is one of those rare occasions when the best movie of the year was honored as such at the Oscar ceremony. Platoon is one of those movies that, once seen, will never be forgotten, and, at least for those who were not in Vietnam, will forever alter the way in which the war is considered.

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