Oliver Stone's fictionalized memoir of the Vietnam war (1986) attempts to re-create, as viscerally as possible, the harrowing realities of combat—blood and guts and traumatized emotions splayed out like freshly exploded corpses in a minefield. He makes a good job of it, though the wider aspirations to contemporary relevance seem dubious. Stone seeks large lessons in the experiences of ordinary men in battle, but it isn't clear Vietnam has anything new to offer: war is hell and somebody inevitably gets shafted, but the uniqueness of this conflict lies away from the military arena: in politics, psychology, and history. For all the purported naturalism, the film seems resolutely schematic, and the attitudes shaping the drama are far from open-ended. Performances are fine (Tom Berenger's especially as the angel of destruction), and as moral center of the action, Charlie Sheen joins a line of flawed Stone heroes that runs from Scarface through Salvador and beyond.
By Pat Graham