This title has been on my "to-see" list for a very long time now. Despite everyone and their mother telling me how much I'd appreciate it, I just wasn't all that interested. In fact, if you really look at my viewing history of film, Kubrick has been a name I've almost actively avoided, despite him being one of the biggest names in film making.
It all boils down to this. I wasn't always into the strangely executed, and for a long, long time, I considered Kubrick's films to be a bit too much for me. Too much what, exactly, I dunno. But I've now seen a grand total of four of his films, and I'm not sure they're altogether for me. I like them, but I don't love them. Maybe it's because I like my weird to be either fun or horrific.
Please don't get me wrong, the guy's a great director. I admire his approach on his weirdness, as he largely dwells on making his audience uncomfortable, and doesn't really need to approach real shock value to do it. In some ways, he's like an early Tarantino in my mind - who again, I like, and admire, but don't necessarily love. For both names, I'm sort of an odd man out. But I'm pleased to say that of the Kubrick films I have seen, this might be my favourite one yet.
A new platoon of Marine Corps recruits is the focus on the first segment of the film. The most famous scenes and dialogue from this movie come from their Gunnery Sergeant, Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). He puts his main focuses on Privates Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Joker (Matthew Modine). Hartman requires his recruits to become instruments of death, and has Joker help Pyle out with all of that, as Pyle is a bit of a bumbler.
The first half ends with the three main characters at a stand-off, which decides each of their fates. The scene is easily one of the most intense I've seen for the time, and it's a great and disturbing way to see how brutally overtaken some minds may get if pushed too hard.
The second part of this focuses on Joker. He's a combat correspondent who talks a lot of talk about being trained to be a killer, but being put behind the scenes. However when a Tet offensive throws him into action, we also dive into Joker's psyche to see whether or not he is what he claims to be.
Altogether, I see this as a film focusing on how a person's mind works when thrown into war-related situations. We see it happen with Pyle in training, and Joker in Vietnam. In different ways, either one shows you how war has an effect on the mind. This is one of those war movies that I'd classify as a "half-war movie". This is when the war is mostly a background situation, and the story focuses more on character, 'Jarhead' being perhaps the most prime example (at least in my mind).
Going back to saying this is probably my favourite Kubrick film I've seen thus far, this puts it above 'The Shining', 'Dr. Strangelove', and 'A Clockwork Orange'. I still have a few to get through, not the least of which is '2001', but I doubt this will end up getting dethroned by any of it. I really enjoyed how this film could be seen as practically a comedy in the beginning, but then it takes a really dark and sudden turn, illustrating that you never quite know how much you're messing up someone's mind by treating them like crap. It's actually pretty heartbreaking. Then as it goes on, it's interesting to see Joker talk a big game, but never really knowing if he can back it up. It's a good way to see how war changes a person, because upon introduction, Joker's just a nice guy.
All in all, a great characters study, but totally one of those movies you can watch once and then be done with it for a while. As ith most of Kubrick's stuff, there's a certain admirable discomfort that comes with this one. It's not a "one and done" because it's a bit too brutal (like 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), but you definitely have to be in the mood to sit through it.