Saw this movie on the big screen for the first time; probably been a good ten years since I last saw it. I’ve always found the film to be very troubling and I wondered how my experience of it would be with another decade of life under my belt. Well, let’s talk about it. I genuinely think that the first half hour of this film can stand up on the shelf with anything else Kubrick ever did. The struggle between R. Lee Ermey’s psychotic drill instructor and Vincent D’Onofrio’s pudgy, out of shape recruit is never less than riveting. Both actors are going at it hammer & tongs and that first half hour is drenched in dread and hilarity, sometimes at the same moment. Ermey’s rants are often hysterically funny (the best is too explicit to post here, but a couple of favorites: “Six foot two?! I didn’t know they stacked **** that high!” “Did your momma have any children that lived?”) but D’Onofrio’s journey from loser wash-out to grinning psychopath is truly disturbing. But then the film writes the two most compelling characters (maybe the ONLY compelling characters) out of the film and the weight of the film falls on the scrawny shoulders of Matthew Modine, who is miscast and pretty terrible in the movie. In a late scene where he’s faced with a horrible decision, he’s literally laughably bad, contorting his face ludicrously in order to show his “inner struggle.” And the film just gets progressively worse and preachier in its anti-war message. John Terry has a brief role as a smarmy newspaper editor and there’s a genuinely wonderful scene of a helicopter gunner exuberantly murdering civilians, but after those two things, the movie essentially has nothing else to offer. The writing gets worse and worse; a confrontation between Modine and Adam Baldwin is unbelievably stupid and if a graveside scene could be less subtle, it would have to involve a sledgehammer popping up and literally beating the viewer over the head. And the scenes of violence are grimly dull and repetitive; maybe Kubrick’s making a point, but honestly, Platoon had come out just the year before and the battle scenes in that movie are among the best ever put to film. Kubrick’s vision of indistinguishable soldiers repeatedly crouching behind rubble and abandoned buildings just feels super stagey. The climactic confrontation with the sniper is downright cheesy. I guess I don’t find the movie troubling as much as I now find it downright frustrating and perhaps even angering. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie this varied; that first third is nothing short of brilliant, but at that turning point, the film just begins a nose-dive and by the end, it’s just utter and absolute dreck. How does one rate a movie like this? Well, like this. Conditionally recommended. 3 stars.
tl;dr – great performances and meticulous direction create a first third up there with Kubrick’s best, but the remainder of the film descends into cliché, pompous sermonizing and utter doldrums. 3 stars.