Full Metal Jacket
begins by following the trials and tribulations of a platoon of fresh Marine Corps recruits focusing on the relationship between Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Privates Pyle and Joker. We see Pyle grow into an instrument of death as Hartman has foreseen of all of his recruits. Through Pyle's torment and Joker's unwillingness to stand up against it, the climax of part one is achieved with all three main characters deciding their fates by their action or lack there of. The second chapter of Full Metal Jacket
delves into Joker's psyche and the repeated referral to the fact that he joined the Corps to become a killer. When his mostly behind the scenes job as a combat correspondent is interfered with by the Tet offensive he is thrusted into real combat and ultimately must choose if he really is a killer.
One of a series of revisionist Vietnam cinema released in the late 1980s, Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
is essentially split into two stories linked by a number of characters. The film follows new recruit Joker (Matthew Modine) and his fellow soldiers through their basic training and into combat in Vietnam. The first half is a chilling portrayal of military brutality and de-humanisation, mainly at the hands of Sgt Hartman (played at a level of staggering intensity by ex-Marine Lee Ermey), that centres around the tragic character of Private Pyle, a young man pushed to the edge of his endurance. The tone of the film is no less harsh when transported to the combat zone as we see the results of the training process in action: the young men turned into unquestioning killing machines. Joker is perhaps the one exception, a soldier with "Born to Kill" written on his helmet who also sports a peace sign on his lapel. But the film finds itself caught in the trap of many of the war movies of the time--how to create audience empathy with characters who are essentially in the wrong. It's a dilemma that Full Metal Jacket
never really solves, although as a spectacle the film is a masterpiece. Made in the days before CGI became the norm, the battle sequences--filmed, rather bizarrely, in London's Docklands before its redevelopment--are hugely realistic and are perhaps the key moments of the movie, heightening the disorientation and fear felt by the soldiers. By offering no more than a snapshot of the Vietnam conflict (the action deals with one individual skirmish), Kubrick cleverly leaves any judgement on the war to the audience, although clearly attempting to influence them. The fate of the characters who survive is also left in the balance, but we can perhaps imagine what awaits them.
On the DVD: Part of a series of Kubrick DVD reissues, Full Metal Jacket has been treated to the full remastering and restoration treatment. The battle sequences have benefited the most, gaining a new audio and visual crispness and clarity that adds to their already impressive sense of realism--you can almost feel the heat searing from the screen and the explosions detonating around you. Maybe not the best war film ever made, as some may claim, but certainly one to take you right to the heart of the action. --Phil Udell
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.