Essay Film Platoon

Release Year: 1986

Genre: Action, Drama, War

Director: Oliver Stone

Writer: Oliver Stone

Stars: Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen

And the Academy Award for Best Director goes to… Oliver Stone, Platoon.

And the Academy Award for Best Picture goes to… Platoon.

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing goes to… Platoon.

The Academy Award for Best Sound goes to… Platoon.

That's how it all went down in 1987 folks. Oliver Stone's sobering 1986 film about a fictional platoon in the Vietnam War took home all kinds of awards, and not just those four Oscars. It also won a Golden Globe for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, as well as a slew of others.

What was it about this little film and its $6 million dollar budget that so captivated viewers (the film went on to gross over $137 million dollars), and the Academy?

We think Oliver Stone said it best in his acceptance speech:

I think what you're saying [by presenting me with this award] is that for the first time you really understand what happened over there, and I think that what you're saying is that it should never ever in our lifetimes happen again.

While there had a number of movies about the Vietnam War before Platoon, such as The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), and The Green Berets (1968), none had really captured all of the horrors of Vietnam: civilian murders, inter platoon fighting, brutal jungle combat, drugs, alcohol, and all the rest. More than its predecessors in the Vietnam War sub-genre, Platoon gave audiences an authentic picture of the reality of Vietnam, rather than using it (the war) as a metaphor for something else.

In addition to its tragic vision of war, however, Platoon also jumpstarted a few careers. While Oliver Stone was already a veteran screenplay writer (he won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1979 for his work on Midnight Express [1978]), Platoon was really his coming out party as far as directing.

Platoon was also a watershed moment for Charlie Sheen. Platoon was his first big role, and he would go on to star in Stone's next film, Wall Street. In addition to Sheen, a number of other young actors with established careers now appeared in the film as still relative unknowns. That list includes Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon (a.k.a. Johnny Drama from Entourage), Johnny Depp, Mark Moses, John C. McGinley, and of course Forest Whitaker. The film was also a big moment in Tom Berenger's career. He was nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for his role as Sergeant Barnes, and won the Golden Globe in the same category.

The long and short of it, folks, is that Platoon was a winner all around, for Oliver Stone, for the cast, and even for the peeps who worked tirelessly behind the scenes on things like sound and editing. You could say all the pieces came together perfectly.

This iconic photo was taken in April, 1975. 

It shows people scrambling towards a helicopter, anxious to get out of Saigon (the capital of South Vietnam that had recently been renamed Ho Chi Minh City). The hasty exit of all remaining U.S. citizens and personnel marked the final end to what had once seemed destined to be an interminable presence in Southeast Asia. By the time Saigon fell in 1975, nearly 60,000 U.S. troops had died in Vietnam, most of them between the ages of 18-20.

The Vietnam War was a straight up mess. While the United States was justifiably freaked out about the spread of communism, given the powerful influence of the Soviet Union, the war quickly became an unwinnable bloodbath. Troops faced just about every problem imaginable:

  • faulty weapons
  • bad leadership
  • low morale
  • difficult terrain
  • an increasingly unsupportive citizenry
  • an enemy that was vicious, fearless, and better equipped to fight in the humid, dense jungles of Vietnam than the inexperienced U.S. soldiers.

So, understandably, in retrospect, Vietnam is now considered one of the biggest bad moves in United States history—one of the most costly, one of the most deadly, and one of the most tragic.

It is this tragedy that makes Platoon so relevant. Oliver Stone, who directed the film, wrote the early drafts of the screenplay shortly after his return from active duty in an effort to inscribe for posterity a very personal and very real experience of the war. He knew what it was really like over there.

Which is maybe why Platoon is an ultimately hopeless film. Nobody really wins and most of the major characters we get to know over the course of the film are dead by the end. While the main character, Chris Taylor, makes it out, he's also more or less "dead." He returns to civilian life disillusioned, changed, troubled, destroyed, and guilty of things he never would have dreamed of when he enlisted.

But Platoon is about more than simply its depiction of the now well-documented atrocities that occurred in the Vietnamese countryside. It's also all about the psychological effects of war (one of the film's marketing slogans was "The first casualty of war is innocence") and of the deep divisions within the U.S. military itself. The central feuding the movie epitomizes one of the biggest problems of the war: the very serious divisions among the soldiers themselves—and between the men on the ground and the suits back in Washington, who kept sending soldiers over there, despite an ever more unsupportive populace. In Vietnam—and in Platoon—no one wins.

A Critical Analysis Of The Film Platoon

The Vietnam War was on everyone's mind in 1960s and 1970s in our country. It was the center of much of America's troubles during this time, but only the soldier's who fought in that war knew the true madness that was Vietnam. Oliver Stone began writing Platoon because the Vietnam War was "a pocket of our history nobody understands." (Schuer t24) Platoon is a movie which should be viewed by everyone, not only for its cinematic qualities but for its historic insight as well.

Platoon is an Orion Pictures production, filmed in 1986. Written and directed by Oliver Stone it tells the gruesome story of a Vietnam War not known by the American public. Tom Beringer, who plays the experienced Sergeant Barnes, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category along with Willem Defoe who plays Sergeant Elias. Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, an idealistic student who had dropped out of college, joined the army, and volunteered for Vietnam. His idealism and view of war in general rapidly change during the course of the film. The character is based off the director Oliver Stone, who dropped out of Yale to join the war effort. Chris and the rest of the soldiers are unaware of what they are getting into and are given little time to prepare. "Trapped in the cage of front-line life, living (if they're luck) from moment to moment, values that apply elsewhere fade out for Barnes and others" (Kauffman 24). While serving his time Taylor experience the war in its full spectrum, from the homesickness and the comradery of the men to the nightmares of battle.

The enemy is 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 nonexistent 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.

Platoon shows how the War affected the soldiers, and how none of them felt that they were fighting for a reason. The film shows the Vietnam experience from the average soldier's point of view. In the beginning Chris Taylor is very ignorant and his chances of survival are slim. The movie went beyond just showing battles, with the showing of the moral dilemmas that the soldiers faced. The film does...

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