Apocalypse Now (1979)
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall,
Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne and Dennis Hopper
At the height of the Vietnam War, Captain Willard receives orders to follow the Mekong River into Cambodia to seek out and assassinate the renegade Colonel Kurtz and his military outpost. But what Willard actually ends up seeking is the catharsis to his own involvement in the war that surrounds him.
Apocalypse Now is that rare breed of film that is harrowing, whimsical, farcical, entrancing and downright depressing - a real voyage to the "heart of darkness" (the Joseph Conrad book that it takes its inspiration from), grabbing you by the throat from the first scene and never letting go.
The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is absolutely amazing, the colors stunning, each shot a magnificent, breath-taking composition. The lighting, the play of shadows makes the landscape seem like a dreamscape. The lush scenery, the long shots, show a place that is both achingly beautiful and terrifying. The music often helps set the mood of the scene, blending orchestral productions with War-era pop classics.
All the actors are top notch, and perform flawlessly - indeed Martin Sheen seems to have been born for the role as the captain-narrator, and Duvall and Brando portray some of the most memorable characters on film.
Apocalypse Now often takes on mythical proportions, and the story can be described as a modern retelling of Ulysses' Odyssey, describing not only a trip down the river through the heart of Vietnam, but also through the horror and madness of the war, and the dark depths of the human soul. It is one of the first films to try to recapture the way things were in Vietnam, not in a realist sense like Deer Hunter did a year before, or Platoon would years later (though some scenes are brutally realistic), but by showing the insanity around these soldiers, and their psychological collapse fighting a war that they could never hope to win or even understand.
The pyrotechnics are also some of the most impressive ever put to film: the scenes of destruction, of incredible explosions are done with such excess and such careful presentation that they reach into the realm of dynamic Art. Surreal scenes also abound, such as the night-scene of the Vietcong blowing up a bridge lit up like a Christmas tree while in the background a radio plays theme-park music.
In the end, Apocalypse Now is an epic in every sense of the word, produced by a director at the peak of his form. It is one of the best war films, indeed one of the best movies, ever produced.
As a side note, the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now released years later, aptly enough entitled Hearts of Darkness: a Filmmaker's Apocalypse, is an excellent film in its own right, and definitely worth watching.
Drama: 10/10 *Classic*
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