Full Metal Jacket (1987) (R)
"Full Metal Jacket" isn't the first movie about war that Stanley Kubrick made. It's not even his second. Before his Vietnam War movie, there was "Paths of Glory" and "Dr. Strangelove"; both anti-war films and both slightly satirical. Yet it's in "Full Metal Jacket" that Kubrick really lets us see his opinion of war, which is scathing at best.
The movie has two times in which it tells its story: during training and during the war.
The section during the war concerns Pvt. Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), who is nicknamed "Gomer Pyle". He is given that moniker by Gny. Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) who finds no end of useful insults to hurl at the men he is training. Most every recruit is branded with a sarcastic pet name and harassed into submission. This is the first step in Kubrick's filleting of the military and war as a whole. Though the men we are following are training to be Marines, it would be naive to think that Kubrick's wrath (for I can find no other word) is only associated with that one branch of the military. It just happens to be the setting we find ourselves in.
Lawrence is the main character for the first part of the movie, though all this time we have a different narrator, Pvt. Davis (Matthew Modine) who is called "Joker".
Lawrence isn't the most popular among the other recruits, he always finds some way to mess the situation up and Hartman isn't a forgiving man.
In these scenes, Kubrick uses his same techniques: the wide angles, the clashing colors, and the tracking shots.
Hartman is ruthless when he is training Lawrence and his jokes start to be the source of resentment. It's unclear whether it was intentional or not (though with Kubrick, it's safe to assume it was purposeful) but Lawrence is portrayed as someone who either is really stupid or suffering from a mental handicap of some kind. Whatever the reason, he is not as fast, fit, or smart as the other men and they start to receive Hartman's punishments for Lawrence's discrepancies.
Lawrence is beaten by the other men, maybe in the hopes that he will gain some sense.
Gradually, a man is shaped by the training and the beating and that man is not good.
The second part of the movie is the actual war and here we pick up more with our narrator, Davis. He is working as a writer for a war magazine for the men in combat. No one really cares about the truthfulness of the articles, as long as they give the men what they want...supposedly the writers are spoon feeding morale to the men. This is the second step of Kubrick's savagery: the mindset of the Americans in the war.
Davis is given the chance to join the action—here he finds stereotypes and prejudices towards Vietnam. He is even told by a commanding officer that inside every Vietnamese person is an American waiting to get out.
The last part of Kubrick's anti-war statement is the treatment of the Vietnamese. Civilians are gunned down of the side of the road as a helicopter passes. Much like "Platoon", sex is an interesting dynamic that plays out in the movie. Prostitution comments are made so casually, it's a harsh reminder of what war turns men into.
Regrettably, the best known part of "Full Metal Jacket" is the improvised insults that Ermey shouts. Yes, some of them are comical, but when you think about what Kubrick is saying the humor fades.
"Full Metal Jacket" deals in passing with the duality of man, exemplified by Davis who wears a piece symbol on his jacket and has written "Born to Kill" on his helmet.
Some of the lighting also reflects this half-and-half theme: one side of Davis's face will be illuminated and one won't.
What is missing here is the typical "Kubrick feel"—that is, that you're missing something. Most Kubrick films have some odd trait that makes me feel that there's a deeper meaning...not so in "Full Metal Jacket". The story is straight-forward and the point is clearly spelled out.
At one moment, the comment is made that war turns men into killing machines.
Kubrick is clear on this: war is hell.
All that being said, what remains in "Full Metal Jacket" is a bizarre humor and an empathy that is usually absent from Kubrick.
"Full Metal Jacket" is one of Stanley Kubrick's finest works.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones