|Full Metal Jacket|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 June 2001|
The title of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ refers to bullets, of which there are many. Directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Kubrick, ‘Dispatches’ author Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford, who wrote the novel ‘The Short-Timers’ on which the film is based, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ is one of the better films made about the experience of the average U.S. soldier in Vietnam. Not as metaphysical as ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘Platoon,’ ‘Jacket’ is also more down to earth -- even if, like its predecessors, it occasionally employs its main character as narrator.
Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine), as he is dubbed by his Parris Island drill sergeant (Lee Ermey), is our eyes and ears in ‘Jacket,’ though he is not the film’s focal point. Indeed, ‘Jacket’ nearly breaks into two separate halves: the first involves the brutally rigorous and ultimately for some entirely destructive U.S. Marine training course; the second half takes place in the cities and combat zones of Vietnam, just before, during and after the Tet Offensive.
The film’s first half is more linear and character-driven, as we witness the gradual disintegration of a heavyset, well-intentioned but slow-witted recruit the drill sergeant calls Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). Poor Leonard -- his real name -- is humiliated and physically battered in every possible way to make him into a soldier. The training works, but at horrific cost. The second half is more generally about the horrors of warfare, though there is a blackly hilarious scene in Chapters 17 and 18 set in a Vietnam office of the official armed services paper Stars and Stripes. Kubrick brings a deep sense of pity to the earlier sections and a you-are-there ambience of resigned dread to the latter.
Chapter 2 contains an introduction to the Marines delivered so scabrously and fiercely by Ermey (a real-life drill instructor before he took up acting) that your jaw hangs open with equal parts admiration and outrage. The sound clarity on his monologue is exemplary. Hissing water in Chapter 5 seems to overtake other sounds more than seems appropriate for the mix, but Chapter 9 compensates with an excellent acoustical indoor echoing effect. Major firefights in Chapters 18 and 26 show off the most dramatic sound effects, with a great booming weapon that will show off the bass on any system that can handle it.
Visually, practically any sequence in the latter half is arresting, but Chapter 20’s mixture of pink smoke, blue dusky sky and green trees is most startling for its unexpected prettiness.
Films have been made before and since about the hellishness of war, but Kubrick and his talented writers and cast make us understand -- at least partially -- the human costs in hearts and minds that are incurred even before the physical damage begins on the battlefield.