Writer and director Oliver Stone created this 1986 Academy Award winner for best picture based on his own experiences in Viet Nam. It is probably his best directing job although some people may argue for Salvador, JFK, or Born on the Fourth of July.
Tom Beringer, who plays the experienced Sergeant Barnes, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category along with Willem Defoe who plays Sergeant Elias. They lost out to Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters. Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, an idealistic student who had dropped out of college, joined the army, and volunteered for Viet Nam. His idealism and view of war in general rapidly changes during the course of the film.
The enemy are the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong but you rarely view them except as shadowy figures in the jungle or momentarily illuminated by the light of a flare. There are no defined battle lines and the combat scenes lead you to believe that the enemy is everywhere.
The line between good and evil is blurred or non-existent in this film. Sergeant Elias is portrayed as a caring, intelligent leader who escapes reality through the use of drugs. His nemesis, Sergeant Barnes, is portrayed as an efficient fighting machine who will stop at nothing to get the job done. You soon realize that he, too, is just doing everything to ensure his own survival.
The story is narrated by Chris Taylor and begins with his arrival in Viet Nam. The first thing he sees is rows of bodies being readied for shipment back to the U.S. He sees soldiers with the “thousand yard stare” heading for their transport back home, having finished their tour of duty. After only a week, he realizes he’s made a horrible mistake by volunteering. He finds out that other soldiers don’t associate with the newcomers because they haven’t put in their time. There is a belief among the troops that if you’re going to get killed in Viet Nam, it’s better that you get killed early in your tour. That way you don’t suffer so much. Because of the lack of suffering, a newly arrived soldier’s life isn’t worth as much as the people who are “short”. After Chris has been there a while, other soldiers advise him to count the days he’s put in, not how many he has to go. That way, they rationalize, it won’t seem so long.
During a patrol, a rift develops between Barnes and Elias which causes two factions to form in the platoon. This leads to the final surprising confrontation.
Some critics complain that the character development in the story is weak and there is no plot. I think this adds to the story and makes it different from other movies which glorify war. There are no real heroes in this movie and no real villains. There is just a group of frightened men fighting for survival in their own ways and counting the days until they can leave the country.
I rate Platoon as one of the best war movies ever made along with Apocalypse Now and Patton. Stone has done an excellent job. Look for him in a cameo role as an officer in a bunker that gets blown up by the enemy.
- Tom Berenger – Staff Sergeant Barnes
- Willem Dafoe – Sergeant Elias
- Charlie Sheen – Chris Taylor/Narrator
- Forest Whitaker – Big Harold
- Francesco Quinn – Rhah
- John C. McGinley – Sergeant O’Neill
- Richard Edson – Sal
- Kevin Dillon – Bunny
- Reggie Johnson – Junior
- Keith David – King
- Johnny Depp – Lerner
- David Neidorf – Tex
- Mark Moses – Lieutenant Wolfe
- Chris Pedersen – Crawford
- Tony Todd – Warren