Like many, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a young naive American citizen who drops out of college to enlist and fight in the Vietnam War. And akin to many wars, men who don’t fight will be seen as cowards, and those who do fight and live to tell the tale, are branded as “American Heroes”. Chris wanted to be the latter. When he arrives in Nam, he sees that his presence is unnecessary and considered pointless to his platoon, because he has not fought for as long as the rest of them, nor does he know the effects of combat in the field.
Chris serves under two non-commissioned officers, the fast-tempered Sgt Robert Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the more human Sgt Elias Grodin (Willem Dafoe). A division ensues between the two NCOs and the platoon when an illegal killing takes place in a village raid. As the war goes on, Chris endures a mental breakdown. And as he fights tooth and claw for survival, he realises he is fighting on two fronts. The first front is with the enemy and the second front is with his comrades. But there is a third front and that is the hardest battle of all, a battle with one’s mind.
Platoon isn’t just another war movie. It’s inspired by Oliver Stone’s only experiences in the jungles of Vietnam in the 1960s. Boy, this movie is heavy. To say it’s depressing would to be putting it lightly. It’s uncomfortable to watch amidst the violence, immorality from certain characters and guerrilla warfare. It shows the ugly sides to war, and that’s something that is few and far between in films today. It does not glamorise the war in Vietnam, it is often described as the most realistic portrayal of Vietnam. The Vietnam War is often described as the biggest military embarrassment in American history.
Platoon left me hollow inside after watching it. Stone did a great job telling the story of the horror and inhumanity of the Vietnam War. One of the great things about this movie, is that it doesn’t become another pro-war movie that glamorises it. He doesn’t make you tread on eggshells. He shoves the nastiness right under your nose, for you to inhale like a bad smell. He doesn’t portray these young Americans as good old “American Heroes”. He portrays them as victims of a system that sends young men to war like pawns on a chessboard. He brings up themes of morality, ethics and humanity (or lack of). It wasn’t black and white or right and wrong. There were shades of grey between the lines.
He uses Sgt Elias (Dafoe) and Sgt Barnes (Berenger) as metaphors for good and evil. Charlie Sheen (Wall Street) narrates this story marvellously well, and gives a stellar performance as Chris Taylor. Vietnam was a pointless and nonsensical conflict, and this film tries to show us why it happened and how humanity got through it. There are examples of harrowing acts of brutality on both sides.
Both sides suffered, and Oliver Stone shows us the good, the bad and the ugly. The winners of wars are often portrayed in a positive light but they give us a bit of both in Platoon, as there are many scenes that would make soldiers sleep uneasily. I sure slept uneasily after watching the movie. The film also co-stars Johnny Depp (Black Mass), Keith David (Community), Forest Whitaker (The Butler) among others who give great performances. I’m no fan of the war genre but this is one of the good ones, if that’s the right word?