5 November 2002 | Aidan McGuinness
Kubrick - yay! One of the best war-based movies ever
I like Kubrick's stuff. Generally any movie he directed was several notches, in quality terms, above any other director (particularly those working nowdays). Does `Full Metal Jacket' continue to show the mastermind behind `2001', `The Shining' and `Dr. Strangelove'? Yup, it does.
As plots go. there isn't much here. I don't particularly care because the script makes up for it. `Full Metal Jacket' is very much a movie of two halves - the first half dealing with a group of conscripts in training at military camp and the hardships they endure under their `hard-as-nails' instructor. The second half is about their exploits in Vietnam itself. Fights? In 'Nam? Haven't we seen all that before? Yes, but rarely with such an experienced hand at work. And it's the camp scenes that are so wonderful.
Gustav Hasford et. Al. have produced an excellent script, particularly for the opening hour. There's barely a moment's pause before you're thrown into the screaming face of Sergeant Hartman. He's hurling abuse at his new recruits with lines so forceful and sharp they'll have you gasping in shock while simultaneously laughing in incredulity. It's the way the script runs in without a pause for breath that helps so wonderfully - and the fact that it's so powerful. It's never just about one-liners from a sergeant, it's also telling a story about how humans work under these conditions. The first half is about how they suffer under their own at home (and very well told it is too), the second half about the human condition under the duress of war. It's an interesting comparison, and a tale well told. The battle may lack some sort of overall context or resolution, but then I feel that's in keeping with the movie - it's about the individual, and not the war, and such elements cannot be easily quantified.
All the characters have a grounded `real world' feel to them, due to both the material and the versatility of the actors. R. Lee Emery is viciously delightful as the manic Sergeant Hartman, while managing to add occasional touches of humanity and a `this is for your own good' attitude through subtle gestures. Matthew Modine is the amiable lead, Private Joker, and as such balances the hard and soft edges admirably (if not spectacularly). The other stand out though is Vincent D'Onofrio as Private Gomer Pyle, the recruit picked upon by Hartman and the other cadets. There's a wonderful innocence about him in the beginning, which transforms into a frightening hardening of his soul later on. The evil/beyond-hope look he gives later on (anyone who has seen the movie will know the one I mean), remains as the most frightening look I've ever seen depicted onscreen. All in all the cast accredit themselves well here.
And so to the direction. It's Kubrick. It's good. Once more there's excellent cinematography - check out the haunting, almost claustrophobic landscapes of Vietnam. There's some lovely use of filters (that haunting blue). There's a brilliant subtle score, that's eerie when used, but never intrusive. There's a very good command of pace - the viewer is never left idle or bored, and the story (particularly in the tremendous first half) flows along smoothly. Great touches abound throughout - check out the many examples, such as the opening scene of Hartman marching right up to the recruits (and to the camera), spitting and screaming vindictive comments, almost as if at the viewer. Some may criticise the almost disconnected feeling you have in the battle scenes towards the end, but I found their stillness, their quietness, and raw power, far more effective than the flash-bang wizardry employed in tripe such as `We Were Heroes'. I can blather on about Kubrick for ages. so I'll stop now.
Is `Full Metal Jacket' perfect? Not quite because of the `two halves' syndrome. Although they do contrast and complement one another, the first half is very much the stronger half. The second feels weaker against it. In and of itself the second half would normally be regarded well, but it doesn't have the visceral power that the first does. I love both bits, but I do love one bit more. This makes the movie suffer just a little. There's so much to like here though that I can't criticise too much - and so much to cherish (especially in the lines delved out). Once more the main man succeeds. Definetely worth seeing. 9/10.