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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but great film, too ambitious yet deep, 9 April 2013
This review is from: Apocalypse Now Redux [DVD] [1979] (DVD)
I saw the original version of this when it came out and remembered it vividly, but came away feeling ambivalent. The war sequence on entering Cambodia was amazingly evocative and absurdist, close to Michael Herr's brilliant impressionistic take on the Vietnam War. Then, upon arrival in Kurtz's camp, I felt it became an alternate reality and fell apart. Brando overplayed the part, but the content, with literary quotations and intellectual allusions to such things as the Golden Bough or TS Eliot was an attempt to make Kurtz into some kind of primal chief or violent Buddha. It didn't work.

Now, almost 35 years later, I had to see it again, in the longer Redux version. I must say, it held up extremely well, and the bluray print is fabulous. Please note: the interpretation that follows assumes the reader has watched the film. It doesn't avoid spoilers.

On the one hand, the story is good, far better in my opinion than the Conrad novella. You have a soldier who is a wounded man, who is seeking death or some kind of redemption. He returns to fight in Vietnam, hungering for the bush because there is nothing to his life but killing, and has a kind of nervous breakdown while waiting for his orders. Then, he learns about someone similar to himself, Kurtz, a once-great soldier that has gone AWOL and created an independent killing force somewhere in Cambodia. He is ordered to find and assassinate him.

The solider's journey to Kurtz represents a kind of rebirth, finding his humanity as he absorbs the story of what happened to this man reputed to be a sincere humanitarian and true leader. It is on the journey that the film works best, with absolutely brilliant performances by first-rate actors. There is Duvall's napalm lover, a super macho surfing enthusiast who loves to fight and never questions his road to victory. But the crew of the transport boat is even better, with a young Larry Fishburne, for one, but also Frederick Forrest as hapless grunts. Except for the imported bits of Americana, they leave civilization for an alien landscape, climaxing in Kurtz's killing zone in Cambodia. I found it completely believable and disorienting, truly original.

However, the end sequence and Kurtz's mental state still didn't quite work for me. Brando kind of hams it up, but he is somehow unconvincing. I wasn't moved by Sheen's opportunity to take his place as alpha male after the assassination. Still, Sheen's evolution as he regains his humanity is enough not to ruin the film. I am very glad that I own this version and will watch it many times.

On the other hand, I am not sure the Redux adds anything except titillating bits for film enthusiasts. It is too long to watch at a single sitting. The new sequences also slow the action, particularly the bizarre interlude on the rogue French colonial estate, where a family is suicidally devoted to keeping its patch of land and business with a private army. Finding the Playboy girls is funny and pathetic, but adds little to the story and is unrealistic, like they are losing it in the bush and don't mind their publicist pimping them for gas supplies. Finally, the new music score was jarring for me, feeling unnaturally grafted onto a work that was finely tuned in the original.

This is one of those auteur films from the last truly experimental era of Hollywood. It is as much a political statement as it is a war story. Soon after this, Hollywood became driven by marketing committees, producing formula films on a conveyor belt, designed to hit all the notes that audiences wanted yet lacking soul, lacking the voice of a solitary literary mind. Today's films can be very good, but they lack the quirkiness of this kind of experiment.

Recommended, in spite of its flaws. It is a great and unique viewing experience and the bluray print is worth the price.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Jun 2013 22:11:20 BDT
Speedygee says:
Surely the advantage of a DVD/Blu-ray disc is that we don't have to view the whole film in one sitting. I personally preferred the redux version - and took a break for supper while I was watching it! The French plantation cut was relevant to the context of the Vietnam war and gave us a well deserved break from the violence preceding it. The scene where Kurtz effectively releases Willard from his incarceration made more sense than the theatrical version which left us wondering how he was suddenly free. I do agree, however, that the Playboy scene added little to the story, but you could also say that about the stage show except that it highlighted the needs and frustrations of the young men in that war torn environment.
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