Movie (Rental) Recommendation: Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket"
I'll never know what it feels like to go through basic training. I am only guessing then when I say the first half of Full Metal Jacket is the closest any movie has come to the truth of that feeling, the intensity of that feeling, the downright shitty reality of that feeling.
Far more to the point, no movie I know has better portrayed the cruelty to which man (in this case) is capable. The danger of the herd. Ie. the film's about a lot more than just basic training. This is why, though Platoon (which came out the same year) won the big awards in 1987, had the bigger stars, and certainly made far more money, is not 'the other' Vietnam movie film nerds like me go back to ('the other' of course being Apocalypse Now).
The greatest war movies are never just about war, much as the great love stories are never just above love, much as Field of Dreams is so much more than just a baseball movie.
The first half* of Full Metal Jacket lasts 45 minutes and is some of my favourite film making ever without using any fancy effects, big name stars, or even overly stylized film making.
Watching the first half again (I've seen it a lot; used to show it in class with my uni students in Japan; I've never been afraid to show 18 year-olds a little dark material in the classroom. Since when does school have to always be so firmly, squarely-prudishly stuck inside the box?) I was amazed at how not stylized the film is. And this is Stanley Perfectionist Reclusive Genius Kubrick we're dealing with, bar none one of the greatest filmmakers in the medium's short history. It's not just a technical genius either, not just the camera angles he chooses, the close ups he makes, or the way he lights a scene. In other words, it's not just aspect ratio ultra movie obsessiveness (which is of course the kind of nerdy detail I get orgasmic over). And it's not even his astonishingly unique and powerful use of music. What is often overlooked (and we'll just ignore Eyes Wide Shut, though I always have an affinity for that flawed film) are the remarkably powerful performances Kubrick drew out of his actors.
Full Metal Jacket was the great director's last masterpiece. Kubrick had more than a few of those. But then, I'm biased. He is my J.D. Salinger of directing, my Miles Davis of film making. Been loving the director since I saw The Shining as a teenager and, unlike John Hughes and Pink Floyd, the brilliance of his work hasn't faded. Quite the opposite.
[*I should add that the 2nd half of the movie takes place in Vietnam and is also pretty damn good.]