Film review: Full Metal Jacket (1987), directed by Stanley Kubrick
This film, #82 on IMDb’s Top 250 list, is sort of a film in two halves. The first half is set at a Marine Corps training camp, the second in Vietnam during the war.
At the training camp, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R Lee Ermey) is drilling the new recruits something fierce. Amongst the recruits are Privates JT Davis (Matthew Modine) and Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio). Davis, or “Joker” as he’s nicknamed, does his best and is an average recruit.
Lawrence is a complete failure. He’s chubby, he’s slow both mentally and physically, and in general, he’s the weakest link. Hartman goes at him hard, trying to get him to shape up, making sure that he doesn’t ruin everything for the rest of the team. Joker tries to help him as well, by helping him with extra training.
Cut a long story short, eventually the class graduates and we follow Joker to ‘Nam. In Vietnam, it’s kill or be killed, and Joker wants to get in on the action, but has ended up working for the military’s newspaper. War ensues.
Also starring Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly, y’all) and Dorian Harewood.
When Mr T found me watching this, he raised an eyebrow and said something along the lines of “do you know what that film’s about?” to which I replied “yes, I’ve seen this film before”. It’s about war and how harsh it can be, and how de-humanising. Most of all, I just watched it because it’s a classic film and hailed as one of the greats. (Your mileage may vary.)
Technically, not a lot happens. In the first half, the half that I find more interesting to watch, the young men mostly run around training and get shouted at, with Lawrence getting bullied. The second, Joker’s in Nam dodging bullets.
What I struggle to understand is why they let things go that far with Lawrence. If he’s not cut out to be a Marine, which he clearly isn’t from the start, why do they keep pushing him? Why not just tell him to pack his bags and go back to “normal” military training? I mean, he doesn’t have to be there, does he? For that matter, why doesn’t he just quit? Say “that’s it, I’m outta here” and go?
At any point, he could’ve been kicked out for not making the cut, or leave on his own accord. Yet he doesn’t. Sure, it wouldn’t have been a massive plot point if he had left, but … still. Won’t go into details, but those who’ve seen the film know what happens and why I single out the character.
The drill sergeant, who was actually a drill sergeant in real life at least at some point, was so intimidating on the set that people tried avoiding him. Ermey is very good, though. Just the sort of character a part of me finds so infuriating that I’d want to punch him right in the face, regardless of the consequences.
D’Onofrio, I didn’t even realise it was him, is fantastic. Modine, fantastic. A truly riveting watch, even though it’s a depressing film about the state of human affairs and warfare in particular. Hey, ghost-of-Kubrick, I might even reconsider you as a director and stop thinking your films suck balls – except for Eyes Wide Shut, which really, truly stinks.
Full Metal Jacket won’t get a top score from me, even if I do think it’s a good film, because the second half is still on the tedious side and I’m not into warfare, guns or the military.
But, well, let’s settle for a 3.8 out of 5 bunk beds.