Like no other movie could tell, Platoon shows us categorically that war – and especially the Vietnam War – is hell.
The story is vintage Oliver Stone – based on his own experiences in the bush with only a few moments of fictionalization. In Platoon, Charlie Sheen plays a young and naive Private Chris Taylor, a newbie in Nam who is thrown waist-deep into the jungle only hours after arrival. Within a week he’s regretting having volunteered, already a shell of the man he was in the States.
Charlie’s great and all, but Platoon’s thrill is in its supporting cast, namely Tom Berenger as a rather evil yet invincible Staff Sargeant, and Willem Dafoe as the unforgettably moral Sargeant Elias. When Berenger and Elias spar, it’s epic acting – and as Stone details on a commentary track, it’s a bit ironic since up until this film, Berenger had always played good guys (a la The Big Chill) and Dafoe had always played terrorists. Dafoe, of course, would go on to play Jesus Christ.
Platoon also plays host to a cadre of then-unknown supporting players, including Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker and John C. McGinley (also in a celebrated role as the cowardly bully of the platoon), but it’s Stone’s unflinching script that makes this film ever so sobering. The Pentagon wanted nothing to do with it, claiming its brutality was "unrealistic," but technical advisor Captain Dale Dye helped Stone ensure this movie is the most accurate depiction of the war in Vietnam that you’ll ever see. Both Stone and Dye have commentary tracks on the new DVD; Stone does his usual narration of the film ("…the VC fires! It’s confusing! Oh, that’s a good shot…") while Dye goes into the minutaie of every military detail you see.
Highly recommended as one of Stone’s greatest works.
Review by Christopher Null © 2001 filmcritic.com