As of this writing, I am at a five-week film camp at an art school in North Carolina. This movie was screened in a massive theater with surround sound, a screen bigger than my future, the works. It was my first time seeing the movie, and I was probably in the best circumstances possible for viewing it. It’s been about a day since I watched it, and I think I’ve processed it enough to review it.
First off, the editing is fantastic. I’ve heard the production of this movie was a disaster, and while I don’t know the details of exactly why, you wouldn’t be able to tell from a blind viewing. It all looks intentional, whether or not it was is irrelevant. The use of crossfades is surprisingly well done, they add to the creeping feeling of insanity that this movie is trying so hard to convey. That’s another thing: One of the main themes of this movie is insanity, and how war changes soldiers for the worse through trauma. In my opinion, this theme is conveyed beautifully through the eyes of Willard, our main character (played by Martin Sheen.) His character is exceptionally done, all of his actions feel natural and realistic because of how well developed he is. The other character I thought was especially well done was Kurtz (played by Marlin Brando.) His development is mostly done with him off-screen, through narration by Willard. This would normally be unacceptable, but it makes sense because nothing in the movie shows anything that Willard can’t see. The information they choose to give us makes him out to be an intimidating, crazed man who has far surpassed the land of reason. These two characters create an interesting dichotomy in terms of being mentally sound. While Willard is sane in his soul and insane in his mind, Kurtz is insane in his soul and sane in his mind. While one is fixable, the other is irreparable. When they finally meet, the uncertainty of what either of them will do to the other is felt in the form of a kind of palpable terror. Anything could happen when these two share the same space.
Other positives include the cinematography. This is a movie that really works with its’ environment to create breathtaking visuals that make wartime look simultaneously beautiful and horrible. Whenever I think of wartime brutality, I’ll think of this movie. Along with that, the production value and coloring is top-notch, these in tandem with the cinematography creates shots that honestly shock me with how good they look. I especially loved the use of different colored smoke, that was used quite creatively.
If I have one complaint with this movie, it’s the side characters. While Willard undergoes a pretty hefty change throughout, most of the side characters remain stagnant and flat. This is only a problem because they’re (mostly) given a pretty substantial amount of screen time, so you would expect to be able to care about them and feel for them when terrible things happen to them. Problem is, they’re not really developed past basic character traits (traits that can be applied to most people) and their occupation (which doesn’t offer much in terms of development.) A friend of mine said two things: One, that the characters couldn’t have possibly been established within the runtime, and two, that the characters aren’t supposed to be developed. Referring to the first, I feel like they could have been. The screen time they’re given is more than enough to throw in some developmental dialogue, or even a scene where they’re connecting as people. Referring to the second, it goes a little deeper than what I said it was. (Please let me know if I misquoted you, Collin.) He said that the characters aren’t supposed to be developed because Willard doesn’t care about any of them, so their lack of development lends to Willard’s development by making him seem more detached from others. This point does hold some weight, and I considered it deeply while trying to decide whether or not I should count this as something I could hold against the film. In the end, I decided that I personally would have liked them to be more fleshed out, because I grew to not really care for them.
Despite that, I still found this to be a brutal, disturbing, thoughtful look at insanity, which was wonderfully executed in most every aspect. There are things I liked that I didn’t even touch on, but I didn’t want to make this review any longer than it already is.
8/10, maybe 9/10 on subsequent viewings.Connect to me