Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Genre: War Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: July 10th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Stanley Kubrick Actors: Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin, Kevyn Major Howard, Arliss Howard, Dorian Harewood, Ed O’Ross, John Terry




o a cheery country tune, a smattering of young men get their heads shaved – the first order of business for indoctrination into the U.S. Marine Corps, and part of their ultimate job to wage war in Vietnam. With a quick cut, the action shifts to a row of bunks at Parris Island, where those same men are lined up to be introduced to the audience in a very unique way. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey in an utterly perfect casting decision) screams bloody murder at his fresh recruits, picking at random the next target for an onslaught of ear-piercing verbal abuse. “Speak only when spoken to!” “The more you hate me, the more you will learn!”

In a scene that might be scary for real people in boot camp, but can’t escape a level of hilarity for moviegoers, Hartman spews hysterical insults at his troops, who receive nicknames that provide a mirthful correspondency to the colorful characters of “M*A*S*H.” Here, however, the language is undeniably harsher and the severity well beyond that of a comedy. Private “Joker” (Matthew Modine) spouts a witticism, only to become the first recipient of ferocious lambasting, while Private “Gomer Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio) has difficulty suppressing a smile, which is cured by Hartman’s hand around his throat. What follows are montages and repetition, covering not only further derisive bellowing from the drill sergeant, but also the obstacle courses and exercises that convert malleable youths into robotic yet formidable soldiers.

The first half of the film is almost something of an educational piece, highlighted by the nonstop, delirious screeching, and the varying successes and failures of the squad. It serves as character development, too, particularly in the way that Joker becomes a leader and a mentor, and with Pyle fleetingly grasping cordialness from him as a superior and a friend. In an unforgettable culmination of his mistakes, his humiliations, and the resulting retaliations from his platoon (including a good lashing with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel), Pyle’s psyche violently cracks. As if a warning about the harshness of boot camp and the potential for mental health predicaments, death and destruction arrive even before the soldiers are immersed in actual combat.

The second half of the film is a sudden transition into Vietnam itself, with a brief glimpse of societal problems outside the base, including haggling with a prostitute and getting robbed. At the airfield, it’s the boredom, the distasteful spread of disinformation, and finally a sneak-attack on the first day of the Tet celebration that give the troops opportunities to experience all aspects of warfare. Alongside such masterpieces as “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon” (but set in a different slice of the conflict), “Full Metal Jacket” exposes the dehumanization of the Vietnamese people, the corruption of morality, cavalier attitudes toward blind allegiance, confusion and chaos getting the best of training, and, above all else, the notion that war is hell. When Joker and his photographer pal Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) navigate through various locales as combat correspondents, viewers bare witness to all of these potent points, each visualized with uncomfortable interactions or bloodshed.

” … what I thought about a war; what I thought a war was, you know, supposed to be. There’s the enemy. Kill them.” With “Full Metal Jacket,” director Stanley Kubrick expresses the sentiment that many of the war’s American participants can’t make sense of their missions or their purpose, and can’t understand who or what they’re fighting for. The great irony is that they believe they’re the good guys, helping people who are supposed to want and need their help – a truth only from their own perspectives. Additionally, he suggests that Vietnam conjures the duality of man – that man can wish for peace while simultaneously thirsting for a chance to kill. In the end, although Joker’s sporadic narration is completely unnecessary, and the transitions between battles create lulls that can’t be filled adequately by repetitive anti-war messages, Kubrick still excels with technical elements and the establishment of a specific, striking mood. A nicely contrasting soundtrack, intense action sequences (including a riveting sniper scene, which would be challenged by “Saving Private Ryan” and “Jarhead” many years later), mesmerizing sets, excellent photography, and believable characters contribute to a poignant thriller, even if individual pieces remain more memorable and significant than the picture as a whole.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10