December 1, 2012 by thedavidryan
Full Metal Jacket – Review
“The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive.”
Full Metal Jacket is today’s latest addition to the “Finally got round to watching….” library and it is one of the most brutally real and important war films I’ve ever seen.
For those yet to see Full Metal Jacket the story centers around a pragmatic U.S. Marine (Private Joker) who witnesses the harsh dehumanising effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow Marine recruits. From the brutal boot camp training at the hands of ultra aggressive drill sergeant Hartman, to the 1968 horrific and violent street combat in Vietnam.
The film begins in the unforgiving US marine cadet training island, where drill sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey) ferociously welcomes his fresh recruits to their new home with a less than inviting introduction. The first act offers a unique insight into the cruel world of stripping away the cadets civilian identity and programming them to become elite military machines, capable of taking lives and ending the conflict in Vietnam.
The film’s most gut-wrenching horrors occur in the first half, thanks to the regimens imposed by real-life drill instructor Lee Ermey. The often overlooked emotional and psychological trauma of combat are told respectfully and honestly here, with a first hand look at how delicate the mind is and how easily the brain can snap when it is being rewired to take another human life.
Full Metal Jacket is full to the brim of excellent dialogue and the opening exchanges between Sergeant Hartman and his new recruits are a joy, as he aims to belittle them in any way possible. In doing so the movie produces some great instantly quotable lines. For example, Sergeant Hartman orders two recruits to clean the toilet area and yells: “I want that head so sanitary and squared-away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in and take a dump.”
However, despite the many humorous scenes, it is upon the completion of the cadets training that Sergeant Hartman delivers a blunt and an all too real speech to his newly promoted marines: “Most of you will go to Vietnam. Some of you will not come back. But always remember this: Marines die. That’s what we’re here for.”
It is a unforgiving theme that is carried throughout the picture. A message that a single marine’s life doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of the war. You are a marine. You are a weapon. You will die. Truly brutal storytelling of a very real scenario.
As this is Stanley Kubrick at the helm, an expected level of excellence is always a given with regards to direction. However, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking here. One moment Kubrick delivers a mightily depressing sense of what life was like fighting “America’s Longest War” against the lethal Vietnamese Guerrilla soldiers. Yet in the next scene Kubrick showcases just how beautiful the Vietnamese landscape and skyline is, despite its current position being ravaged by war.
The action sequences in Full Metal Jacket are particularly effective and striking. You feel every round ripping through enemy bodies, you taste the dirt on the bruised and battered Marine bodies and you can smell the blood dripping from their sweat soaked uniforms. Never have i seen a war movie deliver such unforgiving realism and more importantly made me glad to be as far away from any war zone as possible.
The score is another element that deserves a mention, as discussed above with any Kubrick piece, the soundtrack is often as much a part of the film as the actors or story and there is no exception here. Instantly recognisable anthems such as “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”, “Surfin’ Bird” and “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones, truly supplement the feel of the picture perfectly.
A small criticism of Full Metal Jacket, is how the movie loses its way ever so slightly during the middle. With an astonishing first hour featuring the cadets in training and the heart pounding climax, the second act seems to limber along with no great deal of action or progression to the story. It is only once our lead Private Joker gets from behind his journalism desk and into the theater of war that business starts to pick up, with devastating consequences.
Full Metal Jacket – Conclusion
Overall Full Metal Jacket is a harsh but thrillingly superb look at the cruel world of warfare. The gritty and intense story showcases less about the politics of the Vietnam War and more about how the US Marine Corps turns its recruits into killers, with often unforgiving ramifications. Full Metal Jacket is a visual treat from start to finish, whether that is the unrelenting coldness of the training facilities, to the blood soaked wastelands of Vietnam. Kubrick delivers a visually poetic, darkly humorous, uncompromisingly brutal and subversive war film in every way.
The Usual Suspects is next in line for some “Finally got round to watching….” affection, but until then feel free to follow me and my useless rambling on Twitter here