Next up in 1986's race for Best Picture is...
Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Reggie Johnson, Mark Moses, Corey Glover, Johnny Depp
4 wins, including Best Picture and Best Director
Drawing from his own experiences during the Vietnam War, director and writer Oliver Stone tells the story of Chris Taylor (Sheen), a young soldier arriving in Vietnam for a one-year tour of duty. As the newbie, he struggles to acclimate to the poor conditions and his fellow soldiers. Making matters worse is the fact that his superiors seem to be constantly locking horns. The hostile and facially scarred Sergeant Barnes (Berenger) lacks respect for his own superior, the unassertive Lieutenant Wolfe (Moses), and is also at loggerheads with Sergeant Elias (Defoe), seemingly the only soldier who tries to remain compassionate and reasonable.
If you're not a fan of war films, you probably shouldn't bother with Platoon. Its intense battle scenes are violent and often gory. But the graphic depiction of the war is not the only reason to laud this as a great film. Platoon succeeds because of its characters. The platoon of the title is composed of a variety of soldier types - the tough soldier, the frightened soldier, the corrupt soldier, the takes-it-as-it-comes soldier, the I've-had-enough soldier. In fact, that last type could probably refer to a number, if not all, of the members of the platoon.
There are times when the story seems to ramble. The company moves from mission to mission, fighting battles and losing some of their own. But, undoubtedly, this chaotic and unsettling narrative is representative of the war itself. It also serves to highlight how war can change a person. There is moral ambiguity in a great deal of the platoon's actions and each soldier makes at least one questionable decision, none more so than Sergeant Barnes, whose depravity acts somewhat as the story's through-line. Besides, the entire picture is so captivating that I hardly noticed that two hours had passed.
Georges Delerue's arrangement of Samuel Barber's stirring "Adagio for Strings" is powerfully moving, especially as used over the now iconic image of Elias' dying arms in the air. And Robert Richardson's Oscar-nominated cinematography infuses beauty into otherwise disturbing images.
And then there's the cast - an eclectic mix to match the diversity of the characters. Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger (pictured) both merited their Best Supporting Actor nominations. At the beginning of his career, Charlie Sheen was well-suited to play the naive new recruit who receives a trial by fire. Other up-and-comers at the time that appeared as platoon members were Kevin Dillon (you know him from Entourage), Mark Moses (you know him from Mad Men and Desperate Housewives), Forest Whitaker (you know him from The Last King of Scotland), Keith David (you know him from a lot of movies), John C. McGinley (you know him from Scrubs and most of Oliver Stone's other films) and Johnny Depp (you just know him). McGinley is especially fun to watch, playing a rather eccentric but eventually human Sergeant.