Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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8.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Memorable performances from R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio

First half outweighs second half on impact

 
Movie Info

Movie Name:  Full Metal Jacket

Studio:  Harrier Films

Genre(s):  War/Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  June 26, 1987

MPAA Rating:  R

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How’s your day going?

Joker (Matthew Modine) has entered a madhouse…the U.S. Marine training center of Parris Island.  With his tough-as-nails drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), he finds himself saddled with a rather simple cadet named Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio).  War can have an effect on people…and Joker is about to find out how his training and teaching translates to the battlefield as a writer for Stars and Stripes.  The war in Vietnam is raging, and war is hell.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s adaptation of 1979 novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford.  A follow-up to Kubrick’s The Shining in 1980, The movie received mostly positive reviews from critics but like many of Stanley Kubrick’s films became a cult hit since its release.  The movie was nomination for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (losing to The Last Emperor).

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Hope you like jelly donuts, Pyle!

In the Mid-Eighties, the Vietnam War was ripe for examination.  People were finally opening up about what they saw, the treatment of the young soldiers involved in the combat, and the differences between the “heroic” WWII and Vietnam were being explored.  With the tons of Vietnam movies being released, Full Metal Jacket was different and even more hardcore than some of its other contemporary films.

I do have to say that the intentionally unbalanced story does hurt this film.  The opening sequence of this movie with the training is so much more powerful than the actual war.  The idea of breaking soldiers to the point of being worthless to rebuild them as warriors is very interesting and brings a lot of questions of the effectiveness of the training (like the hazing, the homophobia, group mentality).  It is compelling and thought provoking.

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Me so horny, me love you long time!

The second half of the film demonstrates what happens when this mentality is applied to a real world crisis.  While this is important to the story, it just isn’t as interesting.  Unlike a Platoon or even an Apocalypse Now which had a message about the war, it is more of an implied message and feels a lot rawer than some of the more polished war films.  While the rawness works, the story loses direction in its intentional lack of direction for the viewers.

The movie’s cast is great.  Matthew Modine was always a good everyman, and Joker as his name implies sees the joke of war (though he thinks he understands it more than he does).  The role was meant to be for Anthony Michael Hall, but Hall fell through in negotiations.  Vincent D’Onofrio is the unbalanced Pyle who shows the potentially dangerous and negative effect of the training methods.  Adam Baldwin plays Animal Mother and others considered for the role included Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was busy with The Running Man).

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This is my rifle this is my gun…

The obvious scene stealer is R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.  Kubrick was notoriously precise and drove actors crazy with retakes.  Ermey was a consultant brought in for the movie, essentially demanded the role in character from Kubrick (who liked the approach), and was permitted to add lib most of his dialogue with some minor scripting.  It is a shame that Ermey is so good because losing him for the second half of the film hurts the overall product (but once again does provide the contrast of leaving “the nest” of training for real world combat).

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Remember the gun battle and danger…nope, pretty much just remember the beginning and the prostitute

The movie does look fantastic and features a lot of Kubrick’s trademark shots and style.  While many of the Vietnam movies focused on the jungle combat, Kubrick explored the open fighting in cities.  The movie used a similar filming style involving a stylized shutter speed that has since been used in films like Saving Private Ryan for similar effect.

Full Metal Jacket is a tricky movie.  I saw it when it was pretty new (making me only eleven or twelve…probably too young for the violence and the plot).  Rewatching it as an adult, I see it as a much more artsy film than Platoon which received all the attention the year before.  It definitely isn’t a perfect film and it does have problems but the different approach to war does make it a standout among war films.  Kubrick followed up Full Metal Jacket with his final film Eyes Wide Shut in 1997.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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