Thursday, 22 August 2019

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Important note - it has been many years since I have seen Apocalypse Now, but I could not pass up the chance to see it on the big screen, even if it was "The Final Cut", a version that includes a lot of the footage from the "Redux" version, but not all, and clocks in at around three hours.

Here is my completely unnecessary review for today, because god knows that more than enough has been written and said about this film already. But I'll add my two cents anyway.

I've always had my issues with Apocalypse Now, issues that have simply been exacerbated by most of the material added to it over the years.  The film is an undeniable classic, and should always be considered as a contender for the greatest war movie of all time, but that third act is a real slog, going on for far too long and becoming more and more arduous in a way that was perhaps intended as a metaphor for the Vietnam War itself.

The plot is relatively simple. Martin Sheen plays Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a man sent on a classified mission to catch up to the mysterious Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and terminate his command. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Willard travels on a small boat with four other men, and they all get a chance to be reminded of the absolute insanity of war.

Based on the novel, "Heart Of Darkness", by Joseph Conrad, written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, and also directed by Coppola, the making of Apocalypse Now is the stuff of legend, with some claiming it felt as if it would go on, and be as tough, as the war itself. It's a sprawling mess, at times, but the more powerful moments are SO powerful that it will remain an essential work of art as long as cinema is around.

It's also funny to watch it as a more fully-formed adult, compared to how I watched it as a teen, eagerly awaiting the iconic moments. The Ride Of The Valkyries sequence still holds up as well as ever, for example, but also plays out as a comment on how those particular Americans view themselves, as powerful and larger than life warriors annihilating an enemy by dealing out death from above, while the people below include a random selection of villagers and schoolchildren, as well as those quick to fight back.

It's hard to think of anyone better than Sheen for the lead role, and I'm glad that heart attack didn't put an end to his involvement. He's the perfect mix of military rigidity and wide-eyed confoundment at the events occurring around him. His "crew" are all portrayed brilliantly by Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, and a very young Laurence Fishburne. Dennis Hopper crops up for a few scenes, stretching himself by playing a wild-eyed hippy type (with a camera), and there are very small roles for Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, and R. Lee Ermey. Robert Duvall doesn't have a lot of screentime, but he certainly grabs a fair share of the best scripted lines, and the film somehow finds another level to go to whenever he's around. And then you have Brando, casting a lengthy shadow over the proceedings, both in character and also in the established weight of his performance that has been spoken about for the past forty years. Although the film really grinds to a halt when Willard and Kurtz finally meet, that is not the fault of Brando, who is riveting for every moment that he's onscreen, a warrior who knows what it truly takes to win any war, and is as willing to accept his own death as he is unwilling to accept the judgment of others.

There are a couple of moments I will never enjoy, a scene involving the slaughter of an animal being one that really turns my stomach, but Apocalypse Now is a film that, considering what it took to get made, wouldn't feel right if it was perfect. I'd also agree with many other people who might want to remove a whole point for the extended "French plantation" sequence that appears in extended editions of the movie (it's so clunky and awful that it's actually embarrassing). The fact that none of the negatives ever put me off recommending it in the strongest possible terms, however, should help to remind you of what a cinematic touchstone this is.


I caved in and ordered this upcoming release.
Americans can get it here.

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