Friday, February 1, 2013

Movie Review - Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppolla's ambitious, hallucinogenic, and cerebral film is one of the most resonant pictures that portray the psyche of modern warfare.  Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), an assassin for the CIA, is sent on his final mission to execute rogue American Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando).  Willard hops on a small boat and travels south down the Nung river from Vietnam into Cambodia where Kurtz is stationed.

What sets this film apart from others is that it depicts American military personnel as intruders to the environment as opposed to liberators.  Orders are the main motivation for all characters, carrying out whatever it takes no matter how much suffering is endured and how little reason is involved.  

The two main characters strive to complete their missions irregardless of life and morality.  Kurtz transforms himself into the perfect war leader who takes immediate action without protocol or ethical consideration. Willard continues at all costs down the river that leads into the madness of mens' souls in combat.  Willard and Kurtz are reflections of each other, but at different stages of maturity.

The production of the film itself was hailed as one of the most hellish experiences.  A large majority of the cast and crew were under the influence of alcohol, psychedelics, and/or cocaine during the shoot (the early title of this film was "The Psychedelic Soldier").  Typhoon Olga wiped out sets, causing the cancellation of a month scheduled for filming.  Martin Sheen, struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, suffered a nervous breakdown and a heart attack during the shoot.  Marlon Brando showed up on set massively overweight (285 lbs.) which was inconsistent in how Kurtz was written (gaunt from malaria).  This caused Coppola to struggle with rewriting the ending.  Coppola also experienced extreme strain on his body from the demands of the film, suffering an epileptic seizure and losing 100 pounds of body weight.  Principal photography lasted 17 months (originally planned for six weeks), and the film was so over budget that Coppola had to invest all of his money into the project.  Much of the production process was documented in Hearts of Darkness.

Apocalypse Now is currently available for stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  
Runtime: 153 min., 202 min. (Redux version)
 Rated R for disturbing violent images, language, and some drug use


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