Review: Apocalypse Now

It wasn't the first movie to tell us that War Is Hell, but the first probably that didn't suggest that that was a bad thing. It probably meant to, it just got lost in the chaos of making it.

The word masterpiece gets bandied about in relation to Apocalypse Now, but really as a war film it is nonsense and folly, which is why it is such a great war film.

Coppola's Vietnam is an abstraction; all dry ice, long shadows and unexplained light sources. Whether it is an accurate representation of what happened in South East Asia is rather redundant:

Apocalypse Now has largely replaced the actual conflict in people's consciousness. Along with Full Metal Jacket it put a straitjacket on how American movies portray not just Vietnam but all wars; look at how all Iraq/War on Terror movies have struggled to make any impact or forge an identity of their own.

The decision to base it on Conrad's Heart of Darkness was a fortunate one. It meant that however wayward the production, they had a nice simple story – man sails up river in a jungle to look for another man – on which to hang all the stuff they had filmed.


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Considering all the fuss that went into casting the role – everybody from McQueen to Pacino were considered; Harvey Keitel started out but got sacked, Martin Sheen had a heart attack during filming – Willard is more or less a lead bystander, a variety compere introducing the turns.

But what turns, Robert Duvall's one man show of Catch 22; the helicopter assault; Dennis Hopper playing The Fool in the style of Charles Manson to Brando's….. well, whatever it is that Brando is doing at the end.

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With a level of self-entitlement that is extraordinary even by actor standards, Marlon decided that this Vietnam film was all about him.

A misshapen mass lumbering in darkness, demanding that everybody stop and watch him rail against the folly of a life spent demanding everybody stop and watch him act. This odyssey grinds to a halt with him. He sure isn't any kind of warrior poet that the previous hour and 45 minutes builds him up to be.

He is, though, a compelling insight into how a lot of charisma, a heap of self loathing and a little bit of learning can leave a man twisted and deluded.

When it was released the final section was considered to be a disappointing end to an otherwise extraordinary journey, but the Brando scenes are a big part of what keeps people coming back to the film.

Apocalypse Now; still crazy after all these years.

Apocalypse Now (18)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

With: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurance Fishburne

Length: 147 minutes

*****

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