Let me start off by saying Happy New Year to all and to start off this year, I shall be reviewing one of my favorite films of all time. This is the Illusive One's review of Apocalypse Now.
Released in 1979, Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam War Epic, directed by Godfather director Frances Ford Coppola and starring Martian Sheen, Marlin Brando, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper. The film is more or less a Vietnam War era retelling of the classic 1902 novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and centers around an army assassin named Captain Willard (Sheen), as he tracks down renegade Colonel Kurtz, (Brando), up the fictional Nung River at the height of the Vietnam War. The film also contains a brief appearance by Harrison Ford as an officer who gives Willard his assignment and early roles for now famous actors like Laurence Fishburne and R. Lee Ermey.
On the positive side on this film...well what isn't good about this film? For starters the casting was perfect. Martin Sheen was phenomenal as Willard and this was easily his best role ever. He also serves as the film's narrator which gives you a view into the psychology of the character and gives a surreal quality to the film. Equally as great, (but for some reason more famous), was Marlin Brando as Colonel Kurtz who delivers some of the most haunting monologs on war ever to be seen on film. Robert Duvall was morbidly hilarious as Lt. Colonel Kilgore and Dennis Hopper was great as the crazy, hippie, unnamed photojournalist.
As a whole, the film has a great surreal and psychological quality to it, that gets under your skin and into your head in a way no other film does. That aside the film can also be enjoyed for its individual scenes. Whether it’s Kilgore's raid on the Vietcong controlled village, the Playboy show at the river dock, the boat inspection gone terribly wrong, the Vietcong attack on the Do Long Bridge, the Vietcong attack on the boat, Kurtz's raid of the boat, Kurtz's monologue to Willard, or the climax of the film there's something in it for anyone to enjoy. After each of these events Willard narrates his own take on them with a passive onlooker's stance before the film moves on, giving these scenes, which would be normal in any other film, a surreal quality to it that gets into your head.
The directorial style and post-production editing of the film was also great. The film editing and the way it combined different camera angles into a single view was perfect. The sound editing and visual effects were top notch and still holds up to anything they have out today and were actually better then a lot movies that came out in the decade to follow. The soundtrack of the film by The Doors worked perfectly and helps to add to the surreal quality of film.
On the negative side...well I have absolutely nothing bad to say about it and that's all I have to say on that.
Almost as interesting as the film was the story of its making, documented in the documentary, The Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. Production for the film was started in the early 70s with Coppola originally as the producer. Friend and fellow film maker, George Lucas was originally suppose to direct but dropped out of the project after he got the go ahead for Star Wars and eventually Coppola opted to direct the film himself.
Another issue with the film was the casting. Originally Harvey Keitel was cast as Willard after Al Pacino and Steve McQueen turned down the role but was fired by Coppola soon after because he felt Keitel wasn't right for the part. Eventually the part went to Sheen, who was a problem on his own. During much of the filming, Sheen was in an alcoholic stage of his life and made filming difficult for those around him. Sheen also suffered a heart attack during filming, which delayed the filming for several weeks.
Marlin Brando was also an issue for the cast. He was cast early on by Coppola, as they had worked together in The Godfather but was nearly as much trouble as Sheen. For the role he was paid for, at the time, an unheard of amount of 3.5 million dollars for a month’s work. He was also suppose to be fit and in shape for the film but showed up on the set overweight. As a result, Brando was always dressed in black and only seen in shadowed environments.
Finally there were problems with the filming and post-production stages. It took a total of two years to film and an additional two years of post-production before it was finally released in 1979. It was shot in the Philippines and this caused even more problems for the already troubled film. Bad weather constantly delayed filming and destroyed many expensive sets. Often members of the Philippine Army would serve as extras, only to be called away to fight rebels less than a mile away from the sets. The release date was also delayed several times, as Coppola literally had to edit through millions of feet of footage he had shot.
It would later be said by Coppola that they had access to too much money, too much equipment and everyone went insane a little by little during its making and it nearly cost him his physical and mental health. Despite the great many of problems the production had, much of it worked to the film's advantage and helped give it its surreal quality and when it all came together the people of the world received one of the greatest films for its time and for all time.
The film would later be re-released in theaters in 1987 to capitalize on the success of other Vietnam War era films such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. The Redux version would be released in 2001, which contained about 49 minutes more of previously unedited scenes. While all of these scenes are entertaining, I would only recommend seeing the Redux version after you have seen the original, as they make an already long movie ridiculously long. None of these scenes have Willard narrating and dilutes the surreal quality of the film. And that's my take on the Redux version.
As you can probably tell by this review, I absolutely loved this film and I believe it surpassed anything Coppola made before or after. If I could give it anything higher than a ten I would and if I ever made a list of my favorite films, this one would undoubtedly be very high, (if not on top), on that list.. It had phenomenal acting, a great story, and a surreal, psychological quality to it that I had never seen before or after and is the closest thing I have ever seen to a perfect film.