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500 Five-Star: Apocalypse Now (1979)

June 29, 2011


Some films have been pored over so many times and by so many people that adding another opinion seems almost futile.   Apocalypse Now is one of the most famous (and infamous) films ever made and it’s hard to believe that any other piece of cinema has been examined as closely or had so many words dedicated to understanding it.  There is no point in me running over the basics again: the months over schedule, Brando’s weight gain, Sheen’s heart attack, the set-destroying typhoon, the links to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ etc, etc, etc.  We know it all already.  So all I can really do is give you my brief, overly simplistic, personal opinion on the movie…

*It’s flawed.  Oh, so flawed.  If you sit down to watch Apocalypse Now believing that you’re in for 150 minutes of perfection, you will be severely disappointed.  The ending, whatever the reasons for it, is almost disastrous.  It almost makes sense in the context of the film as Captain Willard (Sheen) has spent days by this point journeying into the depths of the human mind…and the finale is just about as crazy as you would imagine the centre of that human mind to be.  When you know the film well, it all slots together a little easier, but on the first few viewings, it’s incredibly jarring.  There are multiple reasons that Coppola can be excused for this; it seems unlikely, for example, that the ending would have been quite as odd without the problems Brando brought to set.  And in a strange way too, the flaws add a mystique to the movie that has perhaps kept its legendary status alive.  Therefore it’s difficult to hold Apocalypse Now’s flaws against it…cinema needs crazy stories like this to maintain its magic.

*It would take probably twenty viewings to even begin to grasp the multiple subtexts.  An exploration of war, a questioning of the morality of men, a psychological journey, an examination of the ethics of army orders…and that’s off the top of my head, and without even mentioning the various literary and mythical associations.  It’s fair to say that the layered images within many of the film’s scenes serve as a pretty impressive metaphor for the film as a whole.

*The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, and associated to that, the character of Lt. Col. Kilgore (as well as Robert Duvall’s magnificent performance) will never, ever grow old.  Magnificent.

*The cinematography, the music and the absolute dedication of Coppola and his crew to make a technically outstanding piece of cinema deserves the highest of plaudits.  Marlon Brando’s lazy, bloated (in more ways than one), embarrassing performance as Kurtz does not.

*Willard’s psychadelic breakdown, set to The Doors’ ‘This is the End’: best opening to a film ever?  Possibly.



There are some films where ‘classic’ is just an unquestionable status.  Even Apocalypse Now’s problems are spectacular.  I’m therefore duty-bound to agree with Empire…


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