Friday, May 24, 2024


Today is the start of the Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, which means that as usual TCM is going to be running a bunch of war movies, through the Monday broadcasting day, which really means 6:00 AM ET on Tuesday, May 28. One of the movies I hadn't blogged about before which I recorded when TCM ran it during 31 Days of Oscar was the Best Picture Oscar winner Platoon It's running tonight at 10:15 PM, so I finally watched it off the DVR in order to post about it now.

The movie starts off in late 1967, with an idealistic young soldier, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) getting off a transport plane in South Vietnam, having recently volunteered for the army. One of the movie's devices has him writing a series of letters to his unseen grandmother, voiced over by Chris, in which we learn about his view and how it changes as his time in Vietnam goes on. As we first see him, however, he's fresh-faced and "properly" dressed in his battle fatigues.

He's the new man in a platoon that's technically led by Lt. Wolfe, who holds rank, although the men really respect the authority of one or the other of the two sergeants in the platoon, Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Elias (Willem Dafoe). As for Chris, he's not treated with much respect since he's the new man and hasn't faced any of the horrors that the other men in the platoon have. That'll come quickly enough, though, as the men are sent on a patrol somewhere not far with the border with Cambodia. At the time, as you'll recall, Cambodia was officially neutral, although the extent to which the North Vietnamese were trying to go through Cambodia to get into South Vietnam is debatable.

Out in the field, the soldier's life is even worse than back at base. They spend their time digging foxholes and doing sentry watch in three hour shifts, which means they don't get much time to sleep, and what little sleep they do get is fitful. Indeed, something goes wrong when Chris is on watch, and he's accused of falling asleep, something which could lead to a court-martial. Another mission has the men looking for Viet Cong weapons in a rural village, a mission which is no way to win the hearts and minds of the locals. It's here that we really see the conflict between Sgts. Barnes and Elias.

If one were trying to be charitable, one might think they're doing the "good cop/bad cop" routine. Except that it doesn't seem deliberate, and even if it is, it's having the effect of splitting the platoon in two as some soldiers side with "good cop" Elias and others with "bad cop" Barnes. Chris starts counting down the days until his tour is over, and it's an open question up until the end of the film whether Chris is even going to survive the tour.

As I said at the beginning, Platoon won Best Picture, although I think that's in part because it was up against a relatively weak field. Platoon isn't a bad movie, but I have to admit that it's one that I found a bit hard to follow at times, in part because the characters aren't very well introduced, leading to it being hard to keep the various characters straight. Still, Platoon is definitely the sort of movie that other people are going to like more than I did, so definitely watch it if you haven't seen it before.

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