Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Reviewed on 2007 February 11
Very gritty Kubrick movie, almost feels like two different films but that doesn’t bother me, even though the first half seems more gripping.
Full Metal Jacket starts with a group of Marines on Parris Island and the narration of Private Joker (Matthew Modine). Joker and his friend Pvt. Cowboy (Arliss Howard) try to keep their sense of humor while dealing with harsh boot camp life and the gnawing reality they’re going to be on the battlefield. They’re being broken down to be remolded into a fighting unit (in other words, abused until they’re mean enough to fight). The men toughen up under the abuse from Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (an amazing job by real-life Staff Sergeant and Viet Nam veteran R. Lee Ermey), except for one. Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) just can’t perform, and Sgt. Hartman just won’t quit until he’s as tough as the rest of the crew. If that means punishing the rest of the unit until Pyle performs, so be it. Joker initially tries to help the hapless Pyle but it seems even his patience is running out.
The second half of the movie is about Joker in country, and the horrors faced with his men. His intellect gets him a stint as a war correspondent/writer but ultimately he’ll have to fight too. He reunites with Cowboy and meets the ultimate warrior, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin). The bristling between the two men, Joker wearing a peace sign button on his uniform and Animal Mother wearing ropes of bullets, is remarkable.
Even though the two halves seem so different, I think the movie works. It shows how war dehumanizes man, on both an individual and collective level. The dialogue is gripping and in some places very quotable (“Good night ladies!…Hit it, sweetheart!”) and the brutality is leavened (sparsely) with Kubrick’s nasty humor. And few things are more disturbing than that empty stare.
Three chocolate morsels.