A Trip Back to: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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By Christian DiMartino

Now here is a review that will ruffle feathers.

Stanley Kubrick. What else needs to be said? 21 years after his death, Kubrick still is, and always will be, one of the greatest film making masters we will ever come across. His meticulous craftsmanship, his keen eye for visuals and detail, and just the stories he was able to capture, are unforgettable. The images in his films alone are unshakable- even in something as polarizing as, say, Eyes Wide Shut. If you know the name, you know his achievements, and just why they are as remarkable as they are. He was also always able to get great performances out of his actors too, but even when he did, his films were always, simply, through and through, his. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Lolita to Barry Lyndon to A Clockwork Orange, it takes a very brave soul to try and doubt his greatness.

In the eyes of many, I may be seen as said brave soul.

Full Metal Jacket, in the eyes of many, is seen as one of greatest achievements too. With great reason too- just watch the movie, and you’ll more than understand why. Yet… the first time I saw it, I felt a certain way about it, and after revisiting it many years later, I still feel the exact same way. Full Metal Jacket is close to great- so close to great that I wouldn’t fight with anyone who loves it more than I. Yet I do not fully love it, and for one main reason in particular.

First, the storyline. The first 48 minutes or so takes place at Parris Island in the 1960s, in which we follow a boot camp, led by Gny. Sgt. Hartman (the late R. Lee Ermey). Ermey, an actual drill sergeant, gives a performance that should’ve won an Oscar, and then some (fun fact: he wasn’t even nominated). Ermey has such a terrifying, commanding presence onscreen that his character alone keeps your eyes glued to the screen. The focus of this first act mostly revolves around Hartman and the aptly named Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio), an overweight goof who means well and has a large heart, but is also out of shape to the point where his failures during training bring punishment to the other platoon members. Where this storyline goes I will not reveal, in the event you haven’t seen it, but it is nonetheless gripping and unforgettable.

The rest of the film flashes forward a few years, in which Private Joker (Matthew Modine), another key member in the first act, is now in the Vietnam War. There are moments, in both acts, that are pretty funny. Mostly though, the latter half focuses more on the horrors of the war, how overzealous and crazed certain soldiers might have been, and the long lasting impact it may leave. Though, the first act certainly captures the hells of war too, further proving that the military is not for me.

Kubrick’s direction, as one would expect, is flawless. The battle sequences are marvelous, the production design intricate (for a movie that only cost about $30 million, it looks like a billion). The screenplay is what keeps this film afloat though. I imagine, this day and age, people will watch this film and squirm not just because of the war aspect but because of what comes out of these soldiers mouths. I, for one, did, but at the same time, seeing as it takes place during the 60s, I believed these men. I believed that they would speak in such a tasteless manner. Some of it is so tasteless, it made me laugh, and then I immediately covered my mouth. Also, I love the soundtrack too, and when I hear these songs outside of this movie, the images of this movie are still in my mind.

All of this is beautifully crafted and flawlessly written, but it still falls short of greatness, in my eyes at least, because the latter half of the film doesn’t quite grip you as much as the first half. The latter hour of the film is no doubt good- Kubrick couldn’t direct a bad movie in his sleep. The first half though is a masterpiece, and some of the best stuff Kubrick has ever done. Perhaps it is because the film’s most compelling character leaves the picture halfway through.

Imagine going to a concert, with Def Leppard as the headliner and, I don’t know, Kajagoogoo, as the opener (what a concert that would be!). Instead though, Def Leppard opens, and then the show ends with Kajagoogoo. A bit of an underwhelming finish, wouldn’t you say?

The latter half of Full Metal Jacket is more than likely a better experience than a Kajagoogoo concert (“Too Shy” is a banger though), but the latter half takes the gripping storyline, and the characters of Hartman and Pyle out of the picture, and it doesn’t give us a character of equal interest in exchange. The war aspect is probably in its place, but… the Parris Island segment is just so brilliant.

Full Metal Jacket is really good Kubrick, but a notch below great Kubrick. It’s okay though, I know I’m a wrong idiot.

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