Wednesday 10 November 2010

Full Metal Jacket (1987) - Stanley Kubrick

Forget the new Call of Duty and have yourself some Kubrick...

The plot is simple, following a group of marines in the Vietnam war.  It is filmed in stark realism, bordering on documentary and divides neatly in two halves.  The first half depicts the group in training.  The Marines is not a place for the individual.  From the off, the men are seen having their heads shaved, losing all sense of identity.  Gradually, two men emerge from the group as our central focus - 'Joker' and 'Pyle'.  Pyle's story is particularly heartbreaking (why are the fat ones always so endearing?), with moments of pathos and light comedy juxtaposed with shear brutality.  Just as the men are training, this half prepares the viewer for the horrors to come.

The second half takes us to war-torn Vietnam and the strict military precision of training makes way for the fluidity and chaos of war.  Here, the plot centres on Joker, now a soldier-reporter.  His reporting and filming of the events parallels Kubrick himself, emphasising the sense of realism.  The use of music in particular is excellent, ranging from the ironic "Chapel of Love" and "Surfin' Bird" (forever linked to Family Guy...) to more abstract soundscapes which heighten tension.  The final shootout is especially tense and gripping.

Ultimately, war turns good men into monstrous killing machines, but the breakdown is eminently watchable.  There is far too much in this film to discuss in this small piece of Internet space.  Full Metal Jacket is a must-see film, not only as a precursor to more recent war films such as the recent (and brilliant) The Hurt Locker, but as a provocative piece of film in its own right.