“I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.”

There’s an old Native American parable about two wolves which fought for control of a man’s soul, one good and one evil, and it’s the one that was nurtured and fed that won the battle. Platoon, written and directed by Oliver Stone (Snowden, Natural Born Killers) and starring a host of actors, including Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Forest Whitaker, plays out similarly, but with the two wolves manifested in the protagonist’s two commanding officers. It’s about war just as much as it’s about what war does to soldiers, and civilians. And as Chris, our protagonist, grows to admire both of his commanding officers for different reasons, the question of what kind of man he will become burns brighter still.

Platoon is set in the middle of the Vietnam War. There’s no dull exposition—Chris is dropped right into a base camp and immediately sent out into battle. We get to know Chris and the other characters as they’re getting shot at, or smoking weed to escape from the horrors of war. War is often entered into with noble intents, but soldiers will tell you that there’s nothing noble about it. Similarly, Chris enters into the military with noble intents, but quickly discovers that even the heroes he admires are stripped of any nobility and turned into animals.

Day by day, I struggle to maintain not only my strength but my sanity. It’s all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore.

The writing overall was great, but there are bursts of superb writing in the form of written and read-aloud letters from Chris, which serve to narrate the story and clearly state the movie’s position. The monologues are the bits of writing I enjoyed the most, and they really illuminated Chris’s character and the conflict he was facing. Other bits of writing, such as seeing the lengths soldiers would go to to remove themselves from the war or justify their own animalistic behaviors, also shined at times. The plot never dragged, and I never felt hit over the head with morality—everything felt natural, but hit hard in the emotions when it needed to.

Nobody can argue that war brings out the best in us.

While the violence in Platoon was graphic at times and the feeling of dread was pervasive, I’ll admit that I’m pretty sensitive to those things and I never felt they took it too far. The ending was not overly-bleak. There were parts that made me feel terrible, but they were clearly things we’re all supposed to feel terrible about. Despite focusing almost exclusively on the bad parts of war and the horrible things it makes us do, it left me with a feeling of respect for any soldiers that served. It showed that the struggles the individual soldiers face are very painful and very real—and, often, very out of their control.

This is one of the rare movies I believe everyone needs to see, as it shows both the horrors of war and its impact on people without going too far into gore or melodrama. And if you don’t like war movies, this may be even more important for the same reasons. This is probably the best movie about the Vietnam War, and probably one of the best war movies of all time, and is worth seeing for its brutal and accurate portrayal of a piece of American history that I’ll admit I know frighteningly little about. Make the time to see this movie at some point—it will be worth it.

Academy Awards

Winner: Best Picture (Arnold Kopelson), Best Director (Oliver Stone), Best Sound (John Wilkinson, Richard D. Rogers, Charles Grenzbach, Simon Kaye), Best Film Editing (Claire Simpson)

Nominated: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Tom Berenger), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Willem Dafoe), Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Oliver Stone), Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson)

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 2:00
Directory: Oliver Stone
Year: 1986
Genre: war
Rating: R

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