Full Metal Jacket/B, C

Warner/1987/117/FS 1.33

     From the brilliance and intensity of its basic training section, Full Metal Jacket slows to a deliberate and aimless pace once it arrives in Vietnam. True, the precision with which director Stanley Kubrick dissects and condenses the basic training experience is nothing short of amazing. Still, Full Metal Jacket never realizes the potential of the brilliant first half.  From the very opening montage of basic military buzz cuts courtesy of an electric shear, Kubrick finds an ironic tone, that it at once funny and pathetic. 

Hartman parades in the barracks. ©Warner

 Basic training is driven by the constant fierce in-your-face banter of drill sergeant Hartman. Hartman spits Marine, breathes Marine, is Marine. With a pitiless self-righteousness, Hartman drives these Marine trainees through the hoops of fire that mold men into fighting machines. If you can’t cut it through the basic training horrors devised by Hartman and others of his ilk, you’ll never survive the perils of a war. Such is the philosophy of basic training. Weed out the weak ones, turn flesh into steel, and drive the emotions on the small precise path of a bullet traveling toward a kill. 
     While the Vietnam scenes do ring true, especially the press related details, the sketchy nature and clearly unfinished story are not satisfying. Policy meetings regarding what can be said in articles and what observations and buzz phrases to use were common practice in Vietnam. Even the irreverence with which Joker treats the meetings and edicts rings true. The portrayal of the lieutenant in charge of Joker’s press team plays out of tune, however, and the confrontation with the colonel in the field is simply an awkward embarrassment. 
     Vincent D’Onofrio gives a frightening performance as Private Gomer Pyle. One is never sure what direction this character will take. Mostly pathetic, the young soldier begins to lose touch with reality and then hardens into something beyond human. R. Lee Ermey makes you recoil from the intensity
of Sergeant Hartman. Matthew Modine looks an unlikely candidate for the Marine Corps, but he is effective in the role of Joker. 
     Full Metal Jacket doesn’t look very good on DVD. Many backgrounds are blown out and cause potential power supply distortion problems. The image does not have the piercing sharpness that should accompany Kubrick’s perspicacious filmmaking. I wanted to look into and through the eyes of these players but I felt the weak transfer presented a barrier to the depth of feeling the character must be experiencing. Some of the difficult Vietnam lighting situations, especially those tinted with an overall red, are especially soft focused and the color lacks tightness.  Kubrick’s favored mono sound is clear enough though with a slightly compressed range.


Selections from the Feature Archive include articles on Akira KurosawaBlonde BimbosFrank Darabont, Steven Culp, John Herzfeld or Vietnam: The Hollywood Pariah, and many more....
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