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  • by David C. Terr

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    platoon movie posterTitle: Platoon

    Director: Oliver Stone

    Starring: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp

    Release Date: Dec. 19, 1986

    Running Time: 120 min

    Genres: Action, Drama, War


    Platoon is perhaps the first realistic film about the Vietnam War. It is told from the point of view of a young recruit. The movie was written and directed by Oliver Stone, who himself fought in Vietnam. It is very upsetting but also has a very powerful message, namely that from the point of view of the soldiers, we were our own enemy and that the war was wrong.

    Plot Summary
    Platoon is narrated by a young cadet named Chris Taylor from when he first arrives in Vietnam. Shortly after arriving with his unit, he's assigned to dig foxholes and perform other arduous tasks. On a night-time ambush patrol, he gets injured by a friendly fire grenade, which kills his buddy Private Gardner. Shortly thereafter, he's intoduced to the "Underworld" by some fellow soldiers, a bunker in which they smoke marijuana and opium and listen to soul music.

    During the next few days, the unit suffers some heavy casualties as the enemy plants a booby trap which kills two soldiers and they find another one tied to a post and mutilated. Several angry soldiers in the unit take out their hostilities on the civilians of a nearby village, murdering and torturing several of them. The platoon then burns the village and leaves. Chris stops the gang rape of a teenage girl.

    Most of the rest of the film centers around Chris' struggle over which of Sgt. Elias (DaFoe) and Staff Sgt. Barnes (Berenger) to be loyal to. Barnes had killed a woman while interrogating her husband during the village burning, and those who participated in the burning are loyal to him, as Chris was at first. But Elias was against the village burning and Barnes supporters are talking of secretly killing (fragging) him so he won't talk. Chris' loyalty was at first with Barnes but by the middle of the film it starts turning toward Elias. Barnes ends up killing Elias when he's trapped with three of his men.

    A North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infantry regiment ends up killing nearly the entire platoon. Eventually Chris becomes very dissilusioned by the war, wondering who the true enemy is. He finds and wounds Barnes with an enemy AK-47 rifle he picked up. Shortly thereafter he kills him. Eventually Chris is reunited with Francis, a fellow soldier, and the two are airlifted out of the battlefield and sent home, both severely traumatized by their experiences.

    Cultural Significance
    As mentioned earlier, Platoon was the first realistic film about the Vietnam War. Due to its success, several others followed shortly thereafter, including the following:

    • Full Metal Jacket (1987)
    • Hamburger Hill (1987)
    • Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
    • Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
    • Air America (1990)

    Movie Clips

    Here's the original movie trailer.


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