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FULL METAL JACKET (director/writer: Stanley Kubrick; screenwriters: from the novel ”The Short Timers” by Gustav Hasford/Gustav Hasford/Michael Herr; cinematographer: Douglas Milsome; editor: Martin Hunter; music: Abigail Mead; cast: Matthew Modine (Pvt. Joker), Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), Vincent D’Onofrio (Leonard Lawrence, Pvt. Gomer Pyle), R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sgt. Hartman), Dorian Harewood (Eightball), Arliss Howard (Pvt. Cowboy), Peter Edmund (Pvt. Snowball), John Terry (Lt. Lockhart), Kevyn Major Howard (Rafterman); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Stanley Kubrick; Warner; 1987-UK/USA)
“Less about the Vietnam War than about how the Marine Corps turns its recruits into killers.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stanley Kubrick (“A Clockwork Orange”/”Paths of Glory”/”Eyes Wide Shut”), after a seven year pause since filming The Shining, returns to film-making with this superbly well-crafted, profane, dark humored and bleak antiwar Vietnam War film. Though it makes for a fascinating watch, it’s steely-eye cold and less about the Vietnam War than about how the Marine Corps turns its recruits into killers. It’s based on the novel ”The Short Timers” by Gustav Hasford, and is written by Kubrick, Hasford and Michael Herr. The film is divided into two parts. The first part covers a company of Marines undergoing a harrowing basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina; while part two covers the battle scene in Vietnam.

In part one, the gung-ho voluntary recruits are called maggots by their sadistic very vocal drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, former real-life Marine DI), who prepares them to be killers, have no fear and to give their all to the corps. In his opening monologue to the recruits the DI says: “I DO NOT look down on niggers, wops, kikes, and greasers. You are all equally worthless.” The DI then looks over his recruits and renames a black soldier Pvt. Snowball (Peter Edmund), a Texas recruit is renamed Pvt. Cowboy (Arliss Howard) after being told only steers and queers come from his state, a smart-ass who does a John Wayne impression gets punched in the guts and is renamed Pvt Joker (Matthew Modine), and the grinning stupid company misfit who makes the DI insanely angry is renamed Pvt. Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). The DI intimidates Gomer Pyle throughout training for being inept, slow-witted and obese, and gets the other members in the company to also hate him by punishing them when Pyle screws up. Under so much bullying and humiliation Pyle finally cracks, and the consequences are numbing.

In part two, Joker, the film’s nominal hero and narrator and the star recruit of basic training, is in Vietnam as a reporter for Stars and Stripes and after confronting his slick CO with sarcastic remarks about the war’s progress is shipped out to the combat zone at the height of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Joker, the gutsy humorous humanist, wears a peace symbol on his battle fatigues and, on his helmet, the slogan ”Born to Kill.” But in the end, the soldier with confusing dual purposes lives up to his Marine indoctrination to kill for the corps, as the combat mission ends in the film in the ruins of the city of Hue (a Kubrick symbol for the useless destructive nature of war, that brings everyone down).

Nobody’s a John Wayne-like hero, as Kubrick’s aim is to show the violence in training soldiers, the madness of any war and how militarism begets the systematic dehumanization needed to turn men into killing machines, are all related to the warlike American culture and how there can be no winners following such a limited creed.

The virtually all-male cast (aside from a few Vietnamese hookers) get into their roles and give outstanding performances. The military speak is loaded with vulgarity, which gives the film a raw power separating it from most others. It was filmed in England, where Kubrick used a military barracks outside London to substitute for Parris Island and used a deserted gasworks in London’s East End, a plant area that had been bombed-out during WWII, to great effect as the Hue combat area.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”