Stone's Vietnam film is a savage yet moving account of a 19-year-old's baptism under fire: clambering out of a transport plane, Sheen is soon plunged into the bloody chaos of combat. The use of his letters home as a commentary establishes personal experience as the core of the film; but broader political issues do manifest themselves when, unable to make any headway against the elusive Vietcong, the grunts turn their anger and weaponry on one another, the platoon splitting into warring factions that reflect peacetime social divisions. Two conflicting impulses appear in the movie: a desire to assault the audience with searing images that will cauterise the Vietnam wound once and for all; and a wish for a more artistically distanced elegy, given its purest expression in Georges Delerue's plaintive score. Perhaps it is this unresolved tension that allows Rambo fans to relish the violence while concerned liberals ponder the horror. That said, Stone's eye-blistering images possess an awesome power, which sets the senses reeling and leaves the mind disturbed.
Cast and crew
John C McGinley