Apocalypse Now

  • 1979
  • 2 HR 19 MIN
  • R
  • War

This brilliant, bizarre, and confusing film originally brought producer-director Coppola great kudos. He was hailed as the creator of the greatest war (or antiwar) film ever made, yet subsequent viewings show considerable flaws and wide gaps in the story line that are merely filled in with Brando's incomprehensibility. Sheen, a captain high on war and suffering...read more

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This brilliant, bizarre, and confusing film originally brought producer-director Coppola great kudos. He was hailed as the creator of the greatest war (or antiwar) film ever made, yet subsequent viewings show considerable flaws and wide gaps in the story line that are merely filled in with

Brando's incomprehensibility. Sheen, a captain high on war and suffering from battle fatigue, is ordered to take a four-man crew up the Mekong River into Cambodia where he is to exterminate Brando, a berserk American colonel who has set up a ruthless dictatorship on an island. As the gunboat

proceeds upriver, Sheen and his men come under fire, which jangles the nerves of the executioner and haunts him with memories of previous battles. They stop at an American helicopter base where Sheen accompanies Duvall, a wacko colonel who "loves the smell of napalm in the morning," on a raid

against a Vietcong stronghold. The copters fly in blaring Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and then proceed to bomb and strafe everyone in sight. The gunboat continues upriver to a USO site where thousands of GIs are near frantic at the sight of Playboy Playmates on-stage; several soldiers become

so aroused that they rush the stage and the girls must be taken away. Sheen resumes his journey under attack from the shore; some crew members are killed, but he finally reaches Brando's island stronghold. Signs of his dictatorship among the Montagnard tribesmen are everywhere--severed heads of

dissenters impaled on poles, corpses hanging from trees. Sheen is greeted by American stragglers, fanatical followers of Brando, notably Hopper, a neurotic photographer. The executioner is granted an audience with Brando, who resides in the damp darkness of a cave meditating on life and death and

tells Sheen that "moral terror" is necessary for the preservation of civilization. Despite his inner admiration for Brando (it is never made clear why diehard soldier Sheen should feel this way), Sheen carries out the execution and escapes with Bottoms as the natives close in on the retreating

gunboat.

Coppola, as usual, was expansive and almost as self-indulgent in this production as was his temperamental star, Brando. The director began with a $12 million budget that surpassed $31 million before the 238-day shooting schedule ended, his costs so excessive that he had to sink his own money into

the production. The film was also held up as Sheen recovered from a heart attack. Five years in the making--afflicted with indecision, huge costs, expensive technology, haphazard progress, foul weather--the creation itself of APOCALYPSE NOW can almost be interpreted as an appropriately ironic

metaphor for America's involvement in Vietnam. The movie originally was a financial disaster, grossing little more than $5 million above budget. Coppola did produce an awesome film depicting the ultrainsanity of the Vietnam War. Everything here is perverted, from the commanding officers to the

sleazy entertainment given American soldiers: instead of Bob Hope and wisecracks, there are talentless floozies; instead of resolute and somber militarists, there are schizophrenic and paranoid madmen. The photography and production values are faultless as Coppola reproduced the flavor of the

Vietnam-Cambodian jungle--its suffocating foliage and lurking dangers--in the Philippines. But the slim story is slowed down by introspective passages, particularly the incohesive monologs mumbled by Brando that echo chillingly in his cave (reportedly inspired by Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness). One never clearly understands the lunatic's point of view--which might be the point, yet such obfuscating tirades could have been encapsulated for the sake of the viewer suffering through selfishly produced surrealistic scenes. Here again was a message no one understood but accepted in

the name of muddled art. The juxtaposition of Coppola's swift and paralyzing action and the leaden weight of Brando's rambling do not justify the fizzling finale. We are given the tremendous build-up of Technicolor battle only to be offered an end in the shadows of a cave with a madman whose

philosophy and rhetoric are about as interesting as those of a drugged-out guru contemplating his navel at the top of Big Sur. The point, of course, is that war is pointless and horrible and inhuman, and in those regards APOCALYPSE NOW succeeds with devastating accuracy. Yet it lacks anything

really human--love, humor (outside the display of madness), reason, understanding, and people to whom the normal viewer can relate. There is no real feeling here for the Vietnam struggle where hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and more than 50,000 died, a universal attitude that is found

in THE DEER HUNTER and even THE GREEN BERETS. Coppola's intense interpretation of the war is technically impressive and shocking, but it is woefully short on humanity. The film won two Academy Awards: Best Sound and Best Cinematography, and it was nominated for six more: Best Picture (it lost to

KRAMER VS. KRAMER), Best Supporting Actor (Duvall, who lost to Melvin Douglas in BEING THERE), Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing.

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  • Released: 1979
  • Rating: R
  • Review: This brilliant, bizarre, and confusing film originally brought producer-director Coppola great kudos. He was hailed as the creator of the greatest war (or antiwar) film ever made, yet subsequent viewings show considerable flaws and wide gaps in the story l… (more)

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