Over/Under: Platoon and Jarhead
Over/Under – Platoon and Jarhead
In Over/Under, the Blog writers will discuss two similar pieces of film, music, book, or other culture and which of these is overrated by the popular consensus and underrated by most people. Feel free to comment below with your own views!
Let me begin by saying this, I in no way hate Platoon. I would never demean Oliver Stone’s semi-autobiographical account of his time serving in Vietnam. Nor would I demean the screenplay he wrote and some of the visuals that he made to symbolize the war. The most memorable of which has to be the death of Willem Dafoe’s character raising his hands in the firefight. Whenever I first watched the film I was expecting much more though. I was expecting a grandiose war film layered with the intimacy of the men involved with it. I was expecting a more real version of Full Metal Jacket. Looking at it on the technical side, I didn’t necessarily enjoy it either. I have never liked Charlie Sheen and in this film he is nearly unbearable to me in some scenes. Before I watched it, I assumed he would have the same subtle tenacity his father has in Apocalypse Now. Likewise, I’ve never cared much for Willem Dafoe or Tom Berenger either. Parts of the film lag to me in areas I feel like could be much more interesting in book or verbal story form, such as Taylor’s (Sheen’s) encounter with the young boy and woman, for instance. To look at this in a broader light, and to admit a potential bias, I have never liked Oliver Stone to begin with. One of my most disliked films of all time is his X-era Badlands-like crime piece Natural Born Killers. Some of the same authorship that is seen in that jumbled mess is also seen periodically in Platoon. I must again admit that this film is not entirely bad, but it is, as stated, overrated. I generally disliked it and felt it lacked a certain sense I needed in a war film. To each their own though; those that love this film and to Stone himself, this film is an achievement on a definite basis, and is a film needed when discussing Vietnam films that cannot be expressed with Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket.
Sam Mendes is absolutely one of my favorite directors. Also, he is maybe the most underrated director working today. No film by him is more underrated, save Road to Perdition, than his Gulf War memoir adaptation Jarhead. This film features something vital that I feel is Platoon’s most lacking feature, and the main reason it is overrated and this one is underrated: performances. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the same archetype of character as Charlie Sheen; suffice it to say much better. He proved that he could transition smoothly from a film like Brokeback Mountain to a military psychological drama. One of the potential best actors of our generation who is too often left in small roles is Peter Sarsgaard. In Mendes’ hands, Sarsgaard plays the most fascinating character of the film, who both tragically and poignantly is treated to a “Showalter” in the film (film geeks, decipher). Also surprising is Jamie Foxx, who I dislike nearly as much as anyone. Whenever I heard that he was cast over Idris Elba or Chiwetel Ejiofor in Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I nearly wept with disbelief. I then looked back to this film and I felt a little better, though not by much. Anyway, Mendes was praised for his masterpiece American Beauty, yet his later films have taken a toll (I plan to soon express this in a separate writing). Jarhead is a different kind of war film: it is a film about men being lead to war and having no war to go to. Too often we hear of the devastating effect PTSD has on soldiers after taking a life or sustaining an injury. It is a horrible aspect, yet it is interesting to hear of those who went to war and feel as though they accomplished nothing. These are men having to deal with a hunger for war, rather than distaste for it. The scene in which the two men are finally assigned a kill and take to their post as snipers is fascinating. Finally, the men get to go home. A home they have forgotten. They must try to piece back their lives, the hunger slowly subsiding in their stomachs.
Written by Phillip Bryant