Full Metal Jacket (1987) Review – This is my rifle

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I’ve not had any experience with the work of director Stanley Kubritck. Full Metal Jacket not only marks my first film review, but also the my first experience with a Kubrick movie. For every review, there are four main aspects to look at. Every film needs to be marked on:

Plot.
Acting.
Writing.
Music.

These are the four items that truly make a film. Every film I review will be scrutinised on these four points. Regardless of genre, running time or critical rating.

Plot

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is the accidental antagonist of the film.

The Vietnam War was a common plot point for a majority of films released during the eighties and nineties. From Forrest Gump to Platoon, Good Morning Vietnam to Born on the Fourth of July, there seemed to be an overabundance of Vietnam related films. Due to this, it was very difficult to stand out, and Full Metal Jacket managed to make itself unique. While the recruitment and drill sergeant angle of the film was exceptionally outstanding, the film soon dribbled into just another war film. I truly would have preferred it if the entire film had been all about the relationship between Pyle and Hartman. The end of the film could have been something as equally dramatic as the climax of the actual film.

Anyone and anything can die at anytime

I wasn’t too sure on a couple of the names of characters. A scene where a character dies due to a booby trap didn’t have the effect intended, mainly because I didn’t know this characters name. However, this is what the film does perfectly well. People die in war, and as the viewer you have to accept that, especially with this film. Nameless people, or those we have been introduced to only a few moments ago simply die in a matter of minutes. Of course, while this does hinder character progression, I can respect the decision Kubrick was trying to make. By having people die at a sudden instance, it keeps a real flare alive of “this could happen to anyone.” and it’s done rather well.

Noticeably, there is little to no action sequences until after an hour into the film. Maybe there was a reason for this. Compared to today’s standards, the action is flawed and slow to take off. The extras that were meant to be dying weren’t the most convincing, however the action did pick up the pace towards the end of the film. The first fight didn’t even result in the death of a main character, but I can definitely commend it for creating a tense environment.

Acting

What better way to capture a drill sergeant atmosphere than to actually cast one?

R Lee Ermey starred as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and, although only a minor part in the two hour runtime, his character had the lasting impact. According to various websites, Ermey improvised or wrote the majority of his lines. The opening scenes, along with various of his other scenes are synonymous with movie lovers globally. Hartman was definitely my favourite character of the film. He was there to provide a tough as nails drill instructor, but ironically created some of the best and more humourous moments of the film.

Without a doubt, his performance, while smaller than the others, is definitely the best in the film. His first scene is one very long, ad libbed scene that creates a brilliant role that is undeniably perfect. Although obviously not primarily intended, a great wave of humour is created by this first scene, and, overall, Hartman as a character was the comedy escape the film needed.

Joker is arguably the main character. Little is really expanded about him. Throughout the drill instruction segment of the film, we learn little to nothing about him and even in the actual action sections of the film we learn little. The character isn’t bad, not by a long shot, but he certainly leaves a lot to be desired in the lead character.

Cowboy, the struggling soldier

Cowboy was a minor part of the film for the first hour or so, however it’s during the almost sloppy like war part of the film where his character really shines. He struggles to lead his team after the Lieutenant is killed. An iconic scene for me was where he completely loses control of his squad, leading to the death of not only two of his squadmates, but himself also. He’s rather submissive as a squad leader, wherein giving orders, two soldiers defy him and tell him they’re coming with him. He accepts this almost instantly.

Cowboy wasn’t a bad character. He was a fine character that really showed the weakness under pressure of those in the war and I thought his character was constructed rather well. His death scene was evidently moving as just before his death you really begin to connect with his character. No music, little dialogue, and only the sound of warfare made his death a phenomenal piece of the film.

Extras are a pain

Unlike the main cast, some of the extras really let themselves down. Mainly during a small scene that could’ve been so much more, where a couple of extras can be seen laughing on the left hand side. It really takes away the immersion the film had managed to build up to. All because of a smiling extra.

Luckily, I ended up forgetting about the extras mishaps mainly through the deaths of Pyle and Hartman. Their death scene was done perfectly well and added a great deal of shock value to the film. We were provided with two arguably main characters that were killed in a matter of seconds in one scene. Again, it links in with the idea that no matter who you are in this film, you’ll die. Nobody is special no matter how big a role they have. Furthermore, the reactions of the recruits to their deaths is one I didn’t expect. The next scene to take place is Joker and Rafterman sitting at a table in Vietnam. Never mentioning Pyle or Hartman again was interesting. Onscreen there doesn’t seem to be any reaction from anyone involved in the incident whatsoever. There’s no recognition from anyone that the events even took place.

Writing

Joker is our main character, and we know very little about him.

Undoubtedly, when you think of the writing of this film, your mind instantly drifts to the relationship between Private Gomer Pyle and Drill Sergeant Hartman. From the beginning of the film it’s obvious that Pyle is the weakest for the bunch, and Hartman preys on the weak. Kubrick’s genius is shown in the slow but sure deterioration of Pyle’s stability. Every now and then, the camera will cut to Pyle’s face and his reaction to certain events. The scene that made me finally realise what was going to happen was the scene where Pyle began to talk to his gun. On top of that, his conversation with an oblivious Hartman was even better. It really shows the harsh reality that the drill sergeant couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of his recruits.

Hartman is oddly likeable

Even with the carelessness of Hartman, I couldn’t help but like the character simply for his lines. It was undeniable fact that his character was a heartless and overly cruel man, but that didn’t matter, I enjoyed his character wholly and that’s simply because of the writing and the execution of the character by Ermey. On top of this, Kubrick and Ermey did a great job of not only desensitising everyone else to Pyle, but the audience themselves. Personally, I ended up forgetting Pyle’s real name. Even after the film ended, I can’t remember his name, I only remember the name made up for him by Hartman. Again it’s that idea of him just being another soldier, no matter what happens, he’s going to die and just be another tally to an ever growing list of dead soldiers.

Unlike the relationship with Hartman and Pyle, something that is explained in lesser detail is the relationship between Pyle and everyone else. Other than Joker, he never really interacts with any of the other recruits. I suppose this is to show that he’s the outcast and weakest of the group. At the same time it really contracts from the overall feel of the movie. He’s there just for the sake of being a plot point. Without him there it’s arguable that Hartman wouldn’t have been killed. Unpredictably, the rest of the recruits turn on him rather quickly. Giving in to the stress and pressure of being indoctrinated into the military at such a rapid pace.

Military indoctrination is alive and well

I’m not sure if this was on purpose, but for the first half hour of the film, the recruits start and finish their sentences with “sir”. Now obviously this is apart of army indoctrination. After half an hour I was expecting the “sir” stuff to be dropped. Not in the slightest. The first conversation without “sir” is a conversation between Joker and Pyle, and even then there’s a definite feeling of military formality. Pyle even asks for help in later scenes, but Joker and the other recruits refuse to answer.

What I thought was odd about the refusal of help is that it isn’t Hartman’s fault for the eventual death of himself and Pyle. It’s really more to blame on the other recruits. Hartman was tough against Pyle, but he was tough against everyone. It was the recruits that began to tire of Pyle’s constant failures and beat him with soap. That was the scene where I realised Pyle was going to snap. Well, one of them anyways, there were multiple scenes where Pyle could’ve easily snapped.

The writing did manage to capture American stubbornness. I’m not saying Americans are stubborn, but during the Vietnam War, they most certainly were. They truly believed they would win the war, but, of course, they didn’t.

Music

The credits use “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for that song. Hell, the soundtrack for the movie overall is brilliant. Kubrick manages to use a number of stereotypically jolly songs in the darkest points of the movie. It takes a genius to master this, with Kubrick managing to make “Surfin’ Bird” a tense and stressful song. The use of cheery and jolly songs is frequent in the tense parts of the film. Personally, I think it’s ingenious.

Opening scenes for films are extremely important as it sets the tone for the film. What I truly loved about Full Metal Jacket was its intro. Playing “Hello Vietnam” over the footage of numerous nameless faces having their hair buzzcut was certainly attention capturing.

Conclusion

After watching my first Kubrick film, I’ve found a new respect I’ve never felt for a script writer since Edgar Wright. Full Metal Jacket hits the nail on the head in the music department, along with the casting being pitch perfect. The film does leave a lot to be desired and even more to be expanded upon.

Overall though, it’s a good film plain and simple. For all its worth, Full Metal Jacket is straight up enjoyable. Fans of war related films will enjoy the action. Those that look for a more tantalisingly dramatic film will enjoy the first hour of the film. There’s something for everyone in this film.

 


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Full Metal Jacket
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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