Monday, June 19, 2017
It's one of the best movies ever made.
During the Vietnam War, an Army captain is sent on a secret mission into Cambodia to assassinate a Green Beret colonel acting on his own authority and living like a god among local tribes people.
Martin Sheen plays the captain, Willard, and Marlon Brando is the colonel, Kurtz. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now is the movie that splits the whole cinematic program and takes its orders from the jungle.
Like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ten years earlier, the 1979 instant classic is a high-water mark in film to which other movies regularly refer.
At times almost Expressionist in its striking use of shadow, the surreal, and twisted storylines, this loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short novel Heart of Darkness features unforgettable images and performances.
The horror of war and the madness of war are the film's central themes, and in scene after scene these themes are thoroughly explored.
For example, early in his journey upriver to find Kurtz, Willard meets Colonel Kilgore (Duvall). Like General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Kilgore is a certifiable guy in a position of military authority. All Kilgore really wants to do is surf. Even under heavy fire. He gets a little misty-eyed when he thinks about the war one day ending. If his boys won't surf with him, he might just shoot them. And if the waves aren't good enough, he apologizes with deep contrition.
Insanity, Willard realizes, isn't the real complaint against Kurtz. The problem is independent action--especially when it achieves results.
Tales around the making of Apocalypse Now are as interesting as the film itself. Evidently Coppola had a hard time getting some of the actors to learn their lines--Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper--and yet the performances are legendary. As Coppola battled to make the movie, his wife Eleanor filmed him with her own camera. The result is an incredible 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
In 2001 Coppola released a re-edited version of his film, Apocalypse Now Redux. Containing an additional 49 minutes of footage not included in the original, Redux is worth seeing even though the additional material ultimately does not improve the film, but rather slows it down. In particular, a long scene on a French plantation was correctly cut from the 1979 release.
"Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, and pure" are the words which Kurtz uses to describe his realization regarding the enemy's strength. But he might just as well have been talking about the movie. And the real horror would be not to see it.
Starring Marlon Brando,
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius
Runtime 153 minutes