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Platoon is a 1986 American war film written and directed by Oliver Stone and stars Tom BerengerWillem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen. It is the first film of a trilogy of Vietnam War films by Stone (followed by 1989's Born on the Fourth of July and 1993's Heaven & Earth). Stone wrote the story based upon his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam to counter the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne's The Green Berets.[2]

The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1986. It also won Best Director for Oliver Stone, as well as Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed Platoon at #83 in their "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies" poll.

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Plot

Plot[edit]Edit

In 1967, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) has dropped out of college and volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam. Assigned to Bravo Company, 25th Infantry Division near the Cambodian border, he is worn down by the exhausting conditions and his enthusiasm for the war wanes. One night his unit is set upon by a group of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers, who retreat after a brief gunfight. New recruit Gardner is killed while another soldier, Tex, is maimed by friendly fire from a grenade thrown by Sergeant "Red" O'Neill (John C. McGinley), with Taylor being mistakenly reprimanded by the ruthless Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes (Tom Berenger). Taylor eventually gains acceptance from a tight-knit group in his unit who socialize and use drugs in a cabin clubhouse. He finds a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) as well as the elder King (Keith David) and becomes friends with Gator Lerner (Johnny Depp). The soldiers party in a room with Lerner, King, Elias, and Taylor, as well as two other soldiers, Manny and Rhah (Francesco Quinn).

During one patrol, Manny is found mutilated and tied to a post while two others, Sal and Sandy, are killed by a booby-trap. As tension mounts, the platoon soon reaches a nearby village where a supply cache is discovered. Taylor finds a disabled young man and an elderly woman hiding in a spider hole. Taylor snaps, screaming and threatening the man but is shocked to see Bunny (Kevin Dillon) then bludgeon him to death. Barnes interrogates the village chief to determine if they have been aiding the enemy making Lerner translate. Despite the villagers' adamant denials, with Lerner also telling him he is telling the truth, Barnes shoots and kills the chief's wife due to her persistent arguing, which Lerner disagrees with. Barnes takes the child of the woman at gunpoint, threatening to shoot her if the villagers do not reveal information. Elias arrives, scolds Barnes and engages in a scuffle with him over the incident. Platoon commander Lieutenant Wolfe (Mark Moses) orders the men to leave with the villagers and burn the village. As they leave, Taylor stops a group of soldiers from raping two girls.

Upon returning to base, Captain Harris (Dale Dye) warns that if he finds out that an illegal killing took place, a court-martial will be ordered, which concerns Barnes as Elias might testify against him. On their next patrol, the platoon is ambushed and pinned down in a firefight, in which numerous soldiers, including Lerner and Big Harold (Forest Whitaker) are wounded. Lerner is taken back to the helicopter landing area while Wolfe calls in a mortar strike on incorrect coordinates, resulting in friendly fire casualties. Elias takes Taylor and Rhah to intercept flanking enemy troops. Barnes orders the rest of the platoon to retreat, and goes back into the jungle to find Elias' group. Barnes finds Elias and shoots him, returning to tell the others that Elias was killed by the enemy. While they are leaving, Lerner dies, and after they take off, a wounded Elias emerges from the jungle, running from a group of North Vietnamese soldiers. Taylor glances over at Barnes and reads the apprehension on his face as Elias dies. At the base, Taylor attempts to talk his group into retaliation when a drunken Barnes enters the room and taunts them. Taylor attacks him but is cut near his eye as a result.

The platoon is sent back into the combat area to maintain defensive positions. King is sent home and Taylor shares a foxhole with Francis (Corey Glover). That night, an NVA assault occurs and the defensive lines are broken. Several soldiers in the platoon including Junior, Bunny and Wolfe, are killed, while O'Neill barely escapes death by hiding under a dead soldier. To make matters worse, an NVA sapper armed with explosives rushes into battalion HQ, self-detonating and killing everyone inside. Meanwhile, Captain Harris orders his air support to expend all remaining ordnance inside his perimeter. During the chaos, Taylor encounters Barnes, but the wounded sergeant attacks him. Just before Barnes can pummel Taylor, both men are knocked unconscious by an air strike on the overrun base. Taylor regains consciousness the following morning, picks up an enemy Type 56, and finds an injured Barnes, who dares him to pull the trigger. Taylor shoots Barnes, killing him. Taylor then sits, contemplating suicide until reinforcements arrive and find him.

Francis, who survived the battle unharmed, deliberately stabs himself in the leg and reminds Taylor that because they have been twice wounded, they can return home. Taylor encounters his and Elias' old friend Rhah one last time, apparently unscathed and returning with American Armor Cavalry, Rhah then bids them farewell with a battle cry. O'Neill, who desperately wants to go home, is given a promotion to platoon leader and is told he will remain in duty and replace Barnes. The helicopter flies away and Taylor weeps after he stares down at multiple craters full of corpses, friend and foe alike.

Cast[edit]Edit

Development[edit]Edit

"Vietnam was really visceral, and I had come from a cerebral existence: study... working with a pen and paper, with ideas. I came back really visceral. And I think the camera is so much more... that's your interpreter, as opposed to a pen." —Oliver Stone[3]

After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in 1968, Oliver Stone wrote a screenplay called Break: a semi-autobiographical account detailing his experiences with his parents and his time in Vietnam. Stone's return from active duty in Vietnam resulted in a "big change" in how he viewed life and the war, and the unproduced screenplay Break was the result, and it eventually provided the basis for Platoon.[3]

In a 2010 interview with the Times, Stone discussed his killing of a Viet Cong soldier and how he blended this experience into his screenplay.[4] It featured several characters who were the seeds of those who would end up in Platoon. The script was set to music from The Doors; Stone sent the script to Jim Morrison in the hope he would play the lead (Morrison never responded but the script was returned to Oliver Stone by Morrison's manager shortly after Morrison's death - Morrison had the script with him when he died in Paris). Though Break went ultimately unproduced, it was the spur for him to attend film school.[3]

After penning several other produced screenplays in the early 1970s, Stone came to work with Robert Bolt on an unproduced screenplay, The Cover-up. Bolt's rigorous approach rubbed off on Stone, and he was inspired to use the characters from his Break screenplay (who in turn were based upon people Stone knew in Vietnam) as the basis for a new screenplay titled The Platoon. Producer Martin Bregman attempted to elicit studio interest in the project, but Hollywood was still apathetic about Vietnam. However, the strength of Stone's writing on The Platoon was enough to get him the job penning Midnight Express in 1978. Despite that film's critical and commercial success, and that of other Stone-penned films at the time, most studios were still reluctant to finance The Platoon, as they feared a film about the Vietnam War would not attract an audience. After the release of The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, they then cited the perception that these films were considered the pinnacle of the Vietnam War film genre as reasons not to make The Platoon.[3]

Stone instead attempted to break into mainstream direction via the easier-to-finance horror genre, but The Hand failed at the box office, and Stone began to think that The Platoon would never be made. Stone wrote Year of the Dragon for a lower-than-usual fee of $200,000, on the condition from producer Dino De Laurentiis that he would then produce The Platoon. De Laurentiis secured financing for the film, but struggled to find a distributor. Because de Laurentiis had already spent money sending Stone to the Philippines to scout for locations, he decided to keep control of the film's script until he was repaid.[3] Then Stone's script for what would become Salvador was passed to John Daly of British production company Hemdale. Once again, this was a project that Stone had struggled to secure financing for, but Daly loved the script and was prepared to finance both Salvador and The Platoon off the back of it. Stone shot Salvadorfirst, before turning his attention to what was by now called Platoon.[3]

Production[edit]Edit

Platoon was filmed on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, starting in February 1986. The production of the film, on a scheduled date, was almost canceled because of the political upheaval in the country due to then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but with the help of well-known Asian producer Mark Hill, the shoot went on as scheduled. The shoot lasted 54 days and cost $6.5 million. The production made a deal with the Philippine military for the use of military equipment.[3] The film had real Vietnamese refugees acting in different roles in the film.[5] Filming was done chronologically.[6]

James Woods, who had starred in Stone's previous film, Salvador, was offered a part in Platoon. He turned the role down, later saying he "couldn't face going into another jungle with [Stone]". Upon arrival in the Philippines, the cast was sent on a two-week intensive training course, during which they had to dig foxholes and were subject to forced marches and nighttime "ambushes" which utilized special-effects explosions. Stone explained that he was trying to break them down, "to mess with their heads so we could get that dog-tired, don't give a damn attitude, the anger, the irritation... the casual approach to death".[3] Willem Dafoe said "the training was very important to the making of the film," including its authenticity and the camaraderie developed among the cast: "By the time you got through the training and through the film, you had a relationship to the weapon. It wasn’t going to kill people, but you felt comfortable with it."[7]

Stone makes a cameo appearance as the battalion commander of 3/22 Infantry in the final battle, which was based on the real-life New Year's Day Battle of 1968 that Stone took part in while in Vietnam. Dale Dye, who played Bravo company's commander Captain Harris, is a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran who also acted as the film's technical advisor.[8]

Soundtrack[edit]Edit

Adagio for StringsMENU   0:00 The famous theme of Platoon, composed bySamuel Barber.----
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Music used in the film includes Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane and "Okie From Muskogee" by Merle Haggard. During a scene in the "Underworld" the soldiers sing along to "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, which also featured in the film's trailer. The soundtrack also includes "Ride of the Valkyries" (in reference to Apocalypse Now, an earlier Vietnam War film that had Charlie Sheen's father, Martin Sheen, billed in the starring role); "Groovin'" by The Rascals and "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding.

Release[edit]Edit

The film was marketed with the tag line, "The first casualty of war is innocence", an adaptation of Senator Hiram Johnson's assertion in 1917 that "The first casualty of war is the truth".[9] (C.f. Aeschylus (525–456 BC), "In war, truth is the first casualty.")

Reception[edit]Edit

Reviews[edit]Edit

Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars, calling it the best film of the year, and the ninth best of the 1980s.[citation needed] The film currently has an 87% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 86%.[10] In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby described Platoon as "possibly the best work of any kind about the Vietnam War since Michael Herr's vigorous and hallucinatory book "Dispatches".

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