Full Metal Jacket


Warner Bros.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Gustav Hasford and Michael Herr

Based on the novel “The Short Timers”

Occasionally the subject of Vietnam war movies will come up when I’m having one of my well known heated discussions about movies with friends and family. Everybody will start slinging around their candidate for best Vietnam war movies and while everybody knows and loves “Platoon” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter”, you don’t hear many people today mention movies like “Hamburger Hill” (which has some excellent work by Dylan McDermott and Courtney B. Vance) or “Who’ll Stop The Rain” or even the movie that was billed as “the best war movie ever made” when it first opened in 1987, Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET

Now saying that FULL METAL JACKET is “the best war movie ever made” is really stretching a point as far as I’m concerned. It’s not even the best Vietnam War movie ever made. That honor most certainly has to go to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” And if you really want to be blown away, watch the Redux version. Yeah, it’s a whole hour longer and some may say that the French plantation sequence isn’t necessary but screw ’em, I enjoyed it anyway. And as far as pure story goes, “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill” have FULL METAL JACKET beat. But you really should see it because Stanley Kubrick made it and it is a remarkable vision of The Vietnam War. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a Vietnam War movie marathon, rent all the movies I’ve mentioned so far and watch them in this order:

The Deer Hunter
Full Metal Jacket
Hamburger Hill
Apocalypse Now Redux
Who’ll Stop The Rain

Trust me on this, it makes sense to watch them in this order because by watching the films that way you get a sense of how the madness of the war exponentially increased and how it infected the American consciousness thereby causing the collapse of the diehard values of the 50’s and 60’s held onto by The United States. It was painfully obvious that everything was changing day by day and nobody was really all that certain of what was going to happen tomorrow. But that’s enough of my half-assed social commentary. Onto the movie review….

FULL METAL JACKET begins with one of the most brilliant and profanely hilarious sequences in movie history as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) addresses his raw recruits on Parris Island, which is where The Marine Corps trains their troops. R. Lee Ermey actually was a Marine Drill Instructor for thirty years and it was a stroke of genius on Kubrick’s part to have Ermey basically play himself since Ermey brings an outstanding level of realism to the role. And at the same time, he’s as funny as Richard Pryor on his best day. He seems to have a bottomless well of profane insults and obscene descriptions for his men that are at the same time outstandingly creative and yet mind-numbingly hilarious in their dehumanizing effect and he never repeats himself once as far as I could tell. One of the recruits actually has to pay a pretty stern price for laughing while Hartman is berating another recruit and I couldn’t blame the guy one bit ‘cause if I’d been standing there, I’d have been laughing my ass off. Ermey is simply wonderful in the role and he has a scene where he finds some contraband food in the footlocker of one of his recruits and the cat just simply loses his mind. The scene has even more power if you do your research and find out that R. Lee Ermey’s dialog is this movie was actual things he used to say to his real-life recruits. Suddenly it doesn’t become so funny.

Hartman in particular latches onto one overweight recruit he names Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) since the poor slob can’t even tie his shoes right and heaps a whole bunch of abuse on the hapless bastard.  Hartman ruthlessly drives the recruit to the breaking point in his efforts to turn him into a soldier worthy to serve in Hartman’s beloved Marine Corps with horrifying and tragic results.  The conflict between Hartman and Gomer Pyle is witnessed by one Private Joker (Matthew Modine) who is there to become a journalist.

Joker confuses his superior officers because while he claims he is a killer and fully intends to be “the first kid on his block to get a confirmed kill” also blatantly wears a peace symbol on his helmet. Joker is the character we follow through the movie as he goes through basic training and eventually sees combat along with his buddy Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) who is a photographer but also is insanely hot to see his share of the action. Rafterman’s constant mantra to Joker is: “I wanna get in the shit.” The two men hook up with a platoon that is involved in The Tet Offensive and this leads to the last third of the movie where the platoon engages in a bloody confrontation with a sniper in the flaming ruins of Hue City. And by then, Rafterman, Joker and the platoon are most certainly all in a world of shit.

FULL METAL JACKET isn’t a movie with a straightforward plot or story and it feels very loose to me as a result. There’s no sense that we have a story that we’re following from beginning to end and in fact, some scenes don’t really end. They just fade out and go to the next one and maybe that’s what Kubrick was trying for in order to make us feel that The Vietnam War didn’t have a beginning or end. It just went from one outrageous horror to the next. And Kubrick isn’t known for being a director who concentrated on his actors anyway. Despite this, there are some great performances in the movie, especially from Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio who plays Gomer Pyle. In fact, the first hour of the movie is so dominated by their performances that after we leave the Parris Island training sequence, the movie loses some of its energy since there’s no actor in the movie that comes close to the level D’Onofrio and Ermey achieve in the beginning. Although Adam Baldwin as a half-crazed M-60 machine gunner and Dorian Harewood as a member of the doomed patrol come awfully close as you can see that they’re acting their asses off. They’re both very good actors and their roles are solid pieces of characterization. I especially liked how even though Baldwin’s character shows blatantly open racist attitudes toward Harewood, he’s the first one to object when Harewood’s character is shot and the platoon leader orders that they leave Harewood behind.

But even flawed Stanley Kubrick is way better than most directors at the top of their game and FULL METAL JACKET is a five star package of entertainment on a lot of levels. The dialog is simply great and I love the look of the film. It’s simply amazing to me that Kubrick filmed this entire movie in England (Kubrick hated to fly and he insisted that he film his movies in England and he got what he wanted) The combat scenes in Hue City give the movie a very distinct look from other war movies that are usually filmed in the jungle since combat in a city is waged in a radically different manner from combat in the jungle.

So should you see FULL METAL JACKET If you’ve seen it already, you’re probably a rabid fan of the movie and don’t need any further convincing. But if you haven’t, by all means, rent the sucker and enjoy. As I’ve said, the first hour with Ermey and D’Onofrio is absolutely riveting and even though the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up to the beginning, it’s a classic war movie that I recommend highly.

116 minutes
Rated R. And it deserves it. There’s no sexual scenes in the movie but these are guys in the middle of a war and they speak like guys in the middle of a war so if you have sensitive ears, be warned. And when there is violence, it’s graphic. How many times I gotta tell you? It’s a war movie.

13 thoughts on “Full Metal Jacket

  1. Ermey himself did a videotape of his routine as a DI to convince Kubrick to give him the job. It worked.

  2. For me “Apocalypse Now Redux” is the best Vietnam War movie. “Hamburger Hill” never gets enough credit as far as I’m concerned which is why I always have it as second. I agree with you that FULL METAL JACKET is an easy third.

  3. I’m a huge Kubrick fan and naturally this is one of my favorite movies. It’s not Kubrick’s best of course but that still makes it a damn sight better than most other movies. I’d still recommend Platoon and Apocalypse Now Redux as better Vietnam war movies, but for me Full Metal Jacket easily comes in third.

  4. The Deer Hunter
    Full Metal Jacket
    Hamburger Hill
    Apocalypse Now Redux
    Who’ll Stop The Rain

    Gotta be honest, I’d probably end up hating mankind with a burning passion once that marathon was over.

  5. I thought modine was quite good in full metal jacket,im not familiar with his work,as he seemed to be a 80’s matinee idol.But he conveyed alot in full metal jacket,even without even really saying anything.That look after he beats d’onfrio,or watching d’onfrio clean his m-14,the look at the grave,and of course that great,long,close up when he kills the sniper.Also he was funny,especially talking about ann margaret,and the interview in hue city.Great timing,great delievery,great acting.Also great acting i think from arliss howard as cowboy,mainly in the sniper segment when he loses complete control of the squad.I really felt i was watching a documentary in some of those scenes.

  6. AND THE BAND PLAYED ON was so heavy handed it basically grabbed me by the front of my shirt and slapped my face with the message that AIDS is bad and the government was bad for not doing anything earlier. It was like HBO started doing After School Specials.

  7. AND THE BAND PLAYED ON was one of those early HBO “message” movies, where they got a bunch of famous people to tell you that people with AIDS were still real people with real problems. Which I always thought was cool – I’d rather watch that than a telethon. The movie traced the history of the disease by focusing on the American researchers at the CDC who were trying to figure out how it happened and work on a cure.

    Netflix has it to rent but not watch because it’s an HBO movie. Great cast: Modine, Ian McKellan, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Richard Gere, Phil Collins, Angelica Huston, Steve Martin, Donal Logue, Saul Rubinek and so on. Most only appear in one or two scenes – basically, Modine is tracking the disease down and he’ll show up at a house and Ian McKellen answers the door. I remember it being pretty good but I honestly haven’t seen it in 15 years, I bet.

    I haven’t seen WEEDS. I love Mary-Louise Parker but the concept doesn’t sound all that great so it’s way down on the “to watch” list.

    1. AND THE BAND PLAYED ON sounds like interesting watching for the cast, if nothing else.

      And my wife knows I love Mary-Louise Parker ever since she was on “The West Wing” so she keeps dangling that in front of me as an inducement to get me to watch WEEDS.

  8. I always struggle with my feeling that D’Onofrio’s character is the most interesting character in the film and so when he leaves the screen, the film loses some momentum for me. As you say, there’s nothing else in the movie that matches the intensity of D’Onofrio and Ermey, so I end up watching the first act over and over and fading out once they get overseas.

    Matthew Modine is one of those actors, too, that’s never really matched his early potential. I couldn’t even tell you the last thing I’ve seen him in. It’s like he’s caught somewhere between TV or film, and leading or supporting actor.

    I just went to imdb to check out his filmography and literally the last thing I saw him in, other than a guest shot on Law and Order: SVU and an appearance in Transporter 2 (which I’ve seen but don’t remember him in), was Any Given Sunday over a decade ago. Now, he’s been in Weeds so it’s not like he’s disappeared, but the last thing he was in that I think of as a “Matthew Modine” vehicle was Cutthroat Island, which I haven’t seen, either.

    I always think of And the Band Played On when I think of Modine. He was fantastic in that HBO movie.

    1. Good point about Matthew Modine. When I think of him the only movies of his that come to my mind is this one and CUTTHROAT ISLAND. I’ve never even heard of the HBO movie you name.

      Patricia keeps insisting I need to see WEEDS. Your opinion?

      Modine was in TRANSPORTER 2? I’ve seen that movie twice and I’m switched if I can remember seeing him in it.

  9. Nice write-up Derrick. I will say that I was 15 or 16 when I saw this movie first and the whole scene in the bathroom with Private Pyle scarred me for a long while afterward. I don’t know what Vincent D’Onofrio was channeling for that scene but it was scary.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. That bathroom scene is way creepier than stuff in straight-up horror movies. And the reason that it scares me so much is because that’s a situation I could see happening in Real Life.

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