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Apocalypse Now
Drama, Action, History, War
IMDB rating:
Francis Ford Coppola
Marlon Brando as Kurtz
Martin Sheen as Marlow
Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore
Frederic Forrest as Jay 'Chef' Hicks
Sam Bottoms as Lance B. Johnson
Laurence Fishburne as Tyrone 'Clean' Miller
Albert Hall as Chief Phillips
Harrison Ford as Colonel Lucas
Dennis Hopper as Photojournalist
G.D. Spradlin as General Corman
Jerry Ziesmer as Jerry, Civilian
Scott Glenn as Lieutenant Richard M. Colby
Bo Byers as MP Sergeant #1
James Keane as Kilgore's Gunner
Storyline: It is the height of the war in Vietnam, and U.S. Army Captain Willard is sent by Colonel Lucas and a General to carry out a mission that, officially, 'does not exist - nor will it ever exist'. The mission: To seek out a mysterious Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz, whose army has crossed the border into Cambodia and is conducting hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and NVA. The army believes Kurtz has gone completely insane and Willard's job is to eliminate him! Willard, sent up the Nung River on a U.S. Navy patrol boat, discovers that his target is one of the most decorated officers in the U.S. Army. His crew meets up with surfer-type Lt-Colonel Kilgore, head of a U.S Army helicopter cavalry group which eliminates a Viet Cong outpost to provide an entry point into the Nung River. After some hair-raising encounters, in which some of his crew are killed, Willard, Lance and Chef reach Colonel Kurtz's outpost, beyond the Do Lung Bridge. Now, after becoming prisoners of Kurtz, will...
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Excellent Vietnam War film
The film's opening scene alone is worth the price of the DVD - the haunting image of helicopters flying low over a jungle that is suddenly engulfed by an explosion of napalm is not easily forgotten, but Coppola's real genius lies in the the overlaying of a soundtrack that immediately evokes the time and place of these events - The Door's The End (surely the epitome of 60's psychedelia) providing a drugged-up anaesthetic to the violence of the images on the screen.

Based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now follows an American soldier travelling upriver into the depths of a Vietnamese tribal culture which seems to become more and more savage. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a confidential mission by the US army to eliminate Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Kurtz, once one of the finest officers the army had seen, has apparently lost all sense of reality and has gathered his own private Vietnamese army deep in the jungle.

Early in Willard's mission we witness one of film's most powerful scenes; an attack by US helicopter gunships on a Vietnamese village. We see the simple way of life in the village as the helicopters appear on the horizon, with their on-board loudspeakers blasting out Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Robert Duvall's psychopathic US officer gives remorseless orders to gun down the women and blow up the bridges. This scene is starkly real yet magnificent to watch, and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Few films have portrayed the chaos and randomness of war so clearly or so shockingly.

As Willard progresses further up the river the film becomes more and more surreal and foreboding, and we begin to realise that Kurtz has experienced something which has led to his 'madness'. This all becomes apparent in the philosophical, spaced-out ending in which Willard finally finds Kurtz's jungle sanctuary.

Apocalypse Now should not be seen as an overview of the Vietnam War; it is instead a film about one man's journey into darkness, and about the people he meets and the events he witnesses on the way. There are no heroes in this film – just ordinary (and not so ordinary) people trying to survive the best way they can. It recognises that each soldier is different and that each has a story: one young soldier is shown dying while a letter from his mother is read aloud, another soldier screams hysterically as he forced to get off a helicopter and go into war, while Robert Duvall's character famously describes his love of 'the smell of napalm in the morning'. While the viewer is left in no doubt as to the horrors of war, Coppola does not set out to create a sentimental account of 'war being hell'.

While immersed in the breathtaking sound and visuals I have to pinch myself to remember that this film was made in the 70s. It is still as technically spectacular as any film I have ever seen. Ignore the hype surrounding the gimmick of 3D; the realness of the visuals in Apocalypse Now has a far stronger effect. The film is one of the most important and pioneering in history; without it the modern war film would be very different.

It seems a pity that every film more than a few months old is confined to the small screen. Is cinema not the ultimate way to view a film? Imagine only being able to read books or listen to songs released in 2011. There are dozens of forgotten films screaming out for a re-release, from Once Upon a Time in the West to Blade Runner. The magic of acting legends and veteran directors should be seen the way it was meant to be seen. Do not miss the re-release of Apocalypse Now for the world.
Truly, one of the very greats!
Whenever a conversation regarding your favorite movies come up, without hesitation Apocalypse Now always comes forth as the primary contender. Although it took me multiple viewings until I fully started to appreciate the movie for the masterpiece that it was. That for me seems to be the only downside of most truly great films- just a few hours are given for the immersion into the lives of several nuanced characters. While the (mostly) time consuming act of reading a great novel grants the opportunity to grasp the atmosphere of the plot without having to reread.

While obviously the movie revolves around the Vietnam war, the historical conflict itself seems to merely be used as a background. In fact, as quite a few other reviewers have pointed out, it has barely any real connection with the actual day to day life of the American soldier during the war. Instead it is a surreal and intense character study of psychologically distinct individuals on a boat going down the same route of consecutive stages of war-induced madness. Only a select few can endure the trip deep in to the heart of darkness without on the way losing oneself to violent bravado, lust and degradation, madness or cold, detached indifference for the rest of the world. This theme becomes more apparent as the characters delve further down the river, deeper into the jungle, slowly abandoning the Vietnam theater while the film adapts a more surreal, almost metaphysical focus.

It certainly is one of those movies that divides an audience and to its discredit far too often is compared with other films of the same (or similar) genre. Though it is truly unique, and the fact that (at least to my knowledge) for all these years since its creation no other director has dared to emulate something which doesn't seem to have a tangible formula, speaks for its longevity.
Pretentious twaddle
During the Vietnam era, you were either a "square" or "hip" -- with "hip" meaning pro-communist, anti-capitalist, pro-sexual-revolution, anti-mainstream American values. Hollywood directors generally chose to be "hip." The significance of this fact should become apparent in due course.

Now, a little boring history for those who can stomach it: U.S. troops were present in large numbers in South Vietnam from roughly 1962 to 1972. U.S. troops came home in '72, having successfully strengthened the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) so that it could defend South Vietnam from invasion by the North Vietnamese communists and from subversion by the South Vietnamese communist Viet Cong.

The ARVN did, in fact, successfully defend South Vietnam for almost three years. Then, a Democrat-controlled Congress cut off funding to the South Vietnamese in the wake of Republican President Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal. The North Vietnamese invaded, and South Vietnam fell.

Soon thereafter, the Communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and tortured and murdered some two million innocent men, women and children. This is the true tragedy of the Vietnam war -- something that no Hollywood director to my knowledge has touched ("The Killing Fields" is not accompanied by a political explanation of the Cambodian Holocaust.)

Four years after the fall of South Vietnam, and seven years after U.S. troops left the country, Francis Ford Coppola made "Apocalypse Now." He was one of a slew of Hollywood directors who sought to capitalize on the deep well of anti-war sentiment in the United States. Well, let's examine such anti-war sentiment for a minute. Being anti-war is fine, but those who are against war are called upon to offer alternatives that work -- and they never do. Instead, they hold up the UN as some sort of ideal -- a UN made up mostly of undemocratic countries with no respect for human rights.

In the end, the Vietnam War was but one of a series of proxy wars between the communist Soviet Union (at times allied with communist China) and the capitalist West. The Korean War was the first major battle in this rivalry, where both sides sought to extend their influence while bleeding and demoralizing the other side. These proxy wars were a substitute for all-out nuclear war. Terrible things were done by both sides in this conflict, but I believe that the U.S. cause was a noble one. And it largely succeeded, in that the Soviet Union collapsed and freedom and prosperity expanded into Eastern Europe.

But the conduct of the Vietnam War by U.S. politicians was terrible at best. U.S. soldiers never lost a battle in Vietnam. But politicians in Washington would not allow them to keep the territory they had won. They refused to follow Barry Goldwater's advice, which was to "Win, or get the hell out!" They failed to mine Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam to keep Soviet and communist Chinese supplies out of that country. They refused to invade Laos and Cambodia in order to close down the weapons supply line that ran along the Ho Chi Minh trail, ending only thirty miles from Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital.

In the meantime, Vietnam was the first televised war, and the U.S. media were largely left-wing (as they are today) and anti-war. During the Tet Offensive (a major defeat for the communists, and a major victory for the Americans), Walter Cronkite declared that America had "failed" in Vietnam. This was just one of many distortions by the media. The American public stopped supporting the war. And some celebrities -- like Jane Fonda -- actually rooted for victory by the communists.

What, then, do we see in "Apocalypse Now"? Nothing more than all the one-sidedly anti-American, anti-Vietnam-war stereotypes of the day: playing Wagner (subtle; I don't suppose that could be a suggestion that the Americans were the equivalent of Nazis?); showing a giggling soldier-moron in a helicopter randomly machine gunning innocent Vietnamese peasants (subtle; I don't suppose that could be a suggestion that the Americans were the equivalent of Nazis?); and so on and so forth.

Of course, Coppola wasn't satisfied addressing such "substantive" issues. His movie had to be a "grand vision" -- not unlike his "The Godfather." So he threw everything except the kitchen sink into this movie: the pretentious linkage he tried to make between his magnum opus and Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" -- "Wow, man! That's heavy! Copolla is our Conrad!"; the psychedelic/surreal affectations (a first!); the "ironic" and "clever" juxtapositions (a battle mixed up with surfing); the "revelation" of "Ugly American" insensitivity; and so on.

Well, Copolla was preaching to the choir with this movie, and in this he was a great success. But there is no significance to this movie otherwise. If you really want to see enlightening scenes from Vietnam, rent the multi-disc documentary on the war (I forget the title; there are several.) One very moving scene shows U.S. soldiers singing "Silent Night" on the flare-lit battle-field on Christmas eve. Watching a documentary on the war might actually teach you something about that war -- a first! Otherwise, you're going to have to settle for Hollywood's version from the likes of Oliver Stone and Coppola.

The true subject of Coppola's movie, in my opinion, is Coppola's giant ego. The main secondary subject is the dumbing down of an American public that would uncritically eat up his "vision"; the exact same thing is true of Oliver Stone's various movies. Hollywood thinks that "Epatez les bourgeois!" is the last word in creativity, even when its arrows fall far short of the target.

That is the reason why most "serious" Hollywood movies, in my opinion, are overblown failures. And Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" surely stands at the very front of the line of those failures.
Saigon Sh*t!!
On first viewing of this film I found the story so awful it was painful to watch. I wanted to forget it; but once seen this film lives on in one's memory. Clearly it is a highly allegorical work as is the novel it is derived from : "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad. It says much about the human condition in general not only within the context of war. Strictly speaking the film charts Willard's path through hell and ultimately to redemption. In reality Martin Sheen, who plays Willard, did practically the same thing. Reputedly smoking and drinking just a shade too much until half way through the filming he suffered a heart attack. Coppola's own path through this jungle of a film was equally harassing (watch "Hearts of Darkness" to get a better perspective on the making of the movie) resulting on the shoot taking far longer than originally planned. It's difficult now not to elide fact with fiction when discussing this film. Even before it was released I can remember newspaper headlines asking "Apocalypse When?" In the event the film was at last completed with the result that it is probably the most searing war film or any other kind of film you are likely to see. The acting throughout is brilliant from Sheen and Duvall, and fascinatingly quirky from Brando and Hopper. The cinematography is breathtaking and the use of music inspired. I cannot count the number of times I have seen it and it still thrills and enlightens me. A must for any DVD collection. P.S. Don't see the REDUX version.
Interesting Redux
Believe it or not, I have only just seen the redux.

What's interesting is what the redux adds: For one thing, it better highlights the idea that if Kurtz didn't have a method, he did have (or had had) a goal: "Winning" in Vietnam. And this dovetails with another image from the original, nicely paired with a new image in the redux. Image one, from the Playmate USO show: While the Americans had myriad choices, the Vietnam had a choice between victory or death. Image two, from the French plantation, reminding us that the French had actually built something there in Vietnam. What did the Americans have? The Dominoe Theory. In other words, we didn't have s**t, and the redux drives this home a little better.

I love this movie because it's still a bit of a Rorschach. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma, or some f**kin' thing. To wit: Are we ever given a satisfactory picture of the meaning behind Kurtz? The redux seems a little better at conveying the feel of approaching an event horizon, where morality and reality becomes more chaotic and splintered, and it would not be meet and right to expect to be able to walk away "resolved." The movie resolves by resolutely evading a clear resolution. But there are mirror shards whipping by our heads at 400mph, bearing fleeting perspectives. Maybe Kurtz *is* "America in Vietnam." Maybe we won't understand the meaning of the Vietnam War until we understand that the best picture we'll ever get of that is Kurtz. Which is to say that we simply engineered, to the tune of $400B (which, I heard, only *just* got paid off), a horror show to fulfill our Daily Minimum Requirement for The Horror.

All that said, there were still a few bits that maybe should have been left out. The scene with the Bunnies meeting and greeting the crew was unnecessary. Specifically, Willard engineers the deal--2 tins of diesel for a couple hours with the bunnies--and this is distinctly out of character for the spartan Willard. The scenes at the French Plantation were a mix 'n' match; Clean's burial; good. Explanation of prior French integration into Viet society; good. Opium and sex; again, glaringly out of character for Willard. Any time Willard cracks a smile or otherwise distracts from his own proto-Kurtz philosophy has to remain suspect.

This was a great movie and remains a great movie. See it.
The Boring and Offensive Apocalypse
I think a lot of people who think this film is a classic are stupid idiots, the only memorable scene in the film is when they drop exploding napalm exploding and the guy in the hat says "I love the smell of napalm in the morning", the rest of the film is a completely boring bombshell and it's like the film was high on drugs as there's this one part where people are butchering a cow in the most grotesque way possible... now I'm offended by this film.

This film is just weird, the characters are not memorable at all not even Marlon Brando's character, the story is non-existent and the ending just sucks. Overall this film is absolutely terrible.
The horror…. The horror
'Apocalypse Now Redux', Francis Ford Coppola's war opus is probably the most beautiful war film I have ever seen. Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is a Vietnam soldier who is tapped to head a very dangerous and highly classified mission into Cambodia to 'terminate the position' of Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a highly ranked and highly regarded army man who seemingly has gone completely insane and defected from the army, setting up his own little society and helped by a cultish following of soldiers. Escorting him up the river to Cambodia is a handful of navy men, and along the way, they encounter several interesting people (most notably is Robert Duvall's Kilgore, a badass lieutenant colonel with a few screws loose) and some horrifying situations.

'Apocalypse' is less historical war film than a philosophical and psychological study. It is more 'Full Metal Jacket' than 'Platoon'. The running time of 'Apocalypse' is over three hours, but the film is so wonderfully paced and compelling that when the end of the film arrived, I was actually surprised at the amount of time that had passed. The beautiful cinematography is surely what stood out the most for me, however. After seeing this film, I am convinced that Coppola is one of the masters of light and photography in film history. The 'Godfather' films were all tinged with an almost sepia tone, and shadows created the feeling of a Baroque composition. With 'Apocalypse', there is an incredible usage of natural light, and the shadows, particularly in the scenes involving Brando and Sheen, almost become a living character, they are so pervasive and effective. Another gorgeous scene was when Cpt. Willard and Jay Hicks (Frederic Forrest) were in the jungle looking for mangoes, and come across a tiger. The sheer enormity of the surrounding foliage (leaves as big as a house) made the characters almost Lilliputian, but the colorization of the scene was incredible. While everything else was almost a muted grey, the leaves were an incredibly vibrant green, an effect that was particularly striking. Another really minor positive moment in the film was the great scene when the helicopters carrying Duvall and company attack the small village while playing Wagner. This could have just been an ultra-dramatic underlying soundtrack to the scene, but instead Coppola turns the song into an actual part of the scene, with Duvall mentioning that he likes to play it while they are approaching to 'scare the hell out of them'.

The performances in 'Apocalypse' are first class. Much has been made of the amount of money Brando earned for the film, and the amount of trouble he caused. Regardless of this, he turned out a powerful performance for a relatively short amount of screen time. Sheen is completely outstanding - this is the first time I have seen him really unleash in a film – and Duvall is a lot of fun to watch as the loony Kilgore. 'Apocalypse Now' is a film that is so pervasive in pop culture by now (most know several choice lines from the film, 'I love the smell of napalm in the morning' et al) but I knew little enough about it that there were plenty of surprises left to experience. I have not seen the original cut of 'Apocalypse Now' so I cannot compare it to this newer cut, but this is a film that should most certainly be experienced. 8/10

War, insanity, and lackluster acting
Apocalypse Now is a movie meant to mess with your head. It succeeds in that for better or for worse. The best part of Apocalypse Now is the way it portrays its atmosphere. It shows the brutality of the Vietnam war. It shows the crazy culture of certain parts of Cambodia. The twisted natives are terrifying. The journalist gone mad shocks you. The flaws of this movie lies in its actors. Nearly all of the actors give just an acceptable performance. No performances stand out as impressive. The characters are just plot pieces fulfilling certain tasks to drive the plot. Martin Sheen doesn't communicate the degeneration of his mind, his environment does. This film would have been greatly enhanced by a performance showing Willard going mad instead of it just being told to you at the last minute.
A true masterpiece
First of all, if you haven't seen this movie you've been wasting your time watching others. I highly recommend this film to anyone who likes cinema. It is violent, complex and long, but nothing is gratuitous. So if you haven't seen it, stop reading this commentary (yep, SPOILERS AHEAD) and do yourself a favor.

This movie is one of those war classics that don't focus so much on the war, kind of like Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory". It follows Willard's journey into Cambodia, into his very own soul and into madness. His search for Kurtz teaches him that the man he was sent to kill knows much more about the war than those who are in charge. By the end of the film, Willard has become Kurtz, sharing his madness. But what the generals call insanity turns out to be the clairvoyance that only a man who has seen the "horror" can possess.

I think "Apocalypse Now" is by far superior to Conrad's short story, "Heart of Darkness", from which it is freely adapted. They share the same construction but while Conrad's story tends to be too slow until Willard reaches Kurtz, Coppola's film is never boring. This is probably due to the fact that Willard's companions have greater roles in the film. Each of the characters on board the boat is interesting in his own way. Of course, the acting is responsible for this, Kilgore and the photojournalist are two great minor characters.

Visually, the movie is beautiful, the cinematography gets more more and more beautiful as the film goes on. The stylised lighting is so stunning, especially towards the end.

Last but not least, Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando's performances are perfect. Sheen's minimalist approach reflects Willard's empty and goalless life while Brando's acting and Coppola's directing make Kurtz one of the most captivating characters in the history of cinema.

Apocalypse Now is simply one of those movies everybody should watch.

A marvelous bit of surrealist movie-making...
This film is arguably one of the most important cinematic achievements of the 20th century. Based on the book "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad this movie is a provocative display of the Vietnam War and the surreal, yet utterly human experiences of its combatants. In the story, Lieutenant Willard (Martin Sheen) travels down a river to seek and assassinate the crazed Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has isolated himself from U.S. forces in a remote outpost. As Willard gets closer and closer to his prey though, he finds himself idolizing and obsessing over the invisible, god-like figure of Kurtz rather than preparing to kill him.

What sets this movie apart from other war movies is not its "hell no, we won't go," theme that appears in films such as Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," nor its "no guts, no glory" theme that appears in movies such as "Patton." Instead, it is its dreamlike portrayal of war as an experience which brings out our most savage, yet undeniably, our most natural tendencies. Everything from the soundtrack, to the screenplay, to the acting furthers the notion that every person who spends time in a war begins to understand the most basic of human desires, and learns to eliminate their consciences. And this, evidently, is "the horror" that Willard refers to throughout the film.

The sweeping scenes of the blazing jungle, and the incessant whir of helicopter blades, are mere supplements to the brilliant performances of Brando, Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper among others. This movie in itself is a dangerous odyssey, for it takes more than a clever film critic to truly understand its importance. The message is hidden deep in the jungle and takes a keen eye to divulge and appreciate. This is a movie about escape from civility, "the end of our elaborate plan," and a descent into chaos and madness, the only question is, are you ready for the Apocalypse?
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