At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Apocalypse Now

Note from the Author: Just a heads-up dear reader: This is a review for the Theatrical Cut for the movie Apocalypse Now NOT the Final Cut or Redux versions. Also, due to spoilers in the trailer there will not be a trailer attached to the bottom of this review. Thank you all once again for your love and support, stay safe, and healthy and we’ll see you guys at the movies! Ag

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War/ Stars: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, Jerry Ziesmer/ Runtime: 153 minutes

I feel it must be said that not only is Apocalypse Now on my list of my top 5 favorite movies that iconic director Francis Ford Coppola ever made, but it also is a film that truly is one of the most mesmerizing movies ever filmed and put on the silver screen. Indeed this is a perfect showcase for the aspects that were terrifying, and odd yet in an ironic way also intriguing and puzzling in regards to the war we fought in Vietnam as filtered through an insane tale of compulsion, demise, the power of loss, and the whole scope of just what is part of humanity’s inner darkness. Indeed even though the chronicles of everything that went on behind the scenes of this particular film have resulted in it having quite the intriguing reputation amongst movie lovers as well as scholars of cinema, it still manages to work perfectly well and is a crowning representation of not only the brilliance that Coppola brought to a production, but also the brilliance of the entire cast and crew that helped bring this vivid masterpiece to life. Indeed Apocalypse Now is a riveting examination that is sometimes vivid, and often potently violent, grim, and intriguing of just what effects a war can have on people from those on the low-end of the totem pole, those at the top, and those who don’t fit on the totem pole, but possess the notoriety of having gone “off the reservation completely”.

The plot is as follows: Apocalypse Now takes us back in time to the height of that notorious conflict in American history known as the Vietnam War, and introduces us a Captain by the name of Willard who has truly seen better days. Indeed, despite being an extremely skilled covert operative, Willard has the unfortunate issue that he really can’t escape the conflict that has become such an ingrained part of his existence to the point that burn-out is a mild understatement of what this guy is suffering from. Thankfully, Willard’s boredom and idle period finally reaches an end when he receives a new covert mission. This mission involves traveling along the Nung River to the heart of Cambodia whilst in a Armed Forces patrol boat, and eradicating a rogue Special Forces operative by the name of Walter Kurtz who has been conducting himself free of the chain of command and orchestrating assaults against the Viet Cong. Oh and he also has apparently made himself out to be a deity amongst the natives. You know the kind of thing that a fellow maniacal egotist with a deity complex might praise, but that the US Army will classify as total insanity. Yet as Willard and his reluctant squad journey up river, having many surreal and horrifying misadventures along the way, we soon see that not only is there more to Kurtz than initially believed, but that this journey might just be the one to rob Willard of what little humanity he truly has left……

Now in a lot of ways I definitely feel that this truly epic film from Francis Ford Coppola was a wonderful conclusion for a truly iconic decade in the timeline of cinema here in America. I say that because in the 70’s there really seemed to exist a vibe of acceptance and forward-thinking amongst the studios in Hollywood that really allowed for some of the most iconic films ever made by a few of the most legendary directors this country has ever had also. Indeed I may not be a historian, but it is my distinct suspicion that everything that had happened in this country up till that point really seemed to inspire these filmmakers and their unique creative voices to actually, heaven forbid, conjure up films that weren’t only different, but also both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. To that end, Coppola’s epic film is a truly unique mix of pondering humanistic concepts and masterclass filmmaking that manages to use the guidelines set up by the war and adventure film genres whilst also throwing them for a loop by adding in analysis of such intriguing questions as just what value can be placed on life, why do we die, and is there any ethics to be found at all amidst a conflict zone? Indeed everyone may come up with different answers to these questions by film’s end, but that is exactly what Coppola intended.

In addition to being quite the thought-provoker, I feel it should be known that Apocalypse Now is also evidence of just how passionate a director can try, even with all the odds stacked against them, to make a film that will truly stand the test of time. Indeed this is a film which also serves as Coppola’s way of wanting to make a film that was able to go further than any other film, up to that point, made about the Vietnam War had truly been able to. Indeed this may not be the say all end all film that deals with Vietnam, but in making it it’s worth noting that Coppola was able to buck the formula of pure melodrama that had been previously successfully established in 2 other films about Vietnam made before his known as The Deer Hunter or Coming Home or which would be seen again in films like Platoon and Casualties of War before filmmakers started using Vietnam as a launchpad of sorts for a wide variety of films such as Jacob’s Ladder or Good Morning, Vietnam. Yet out of all the films that have been made that involve that infamous war it is definitely worth noting that only Coppola possessed the guts and insight to use this notorious conflict as the background for a film that deals with a quest for answers to some of the questions that each and every one of us has pondered during the course of our lives without once backstabbing the effects that this conflict had on those who took part in it.

Now I feel it should be known that every single time I have the immense pleasure of sitting down and watching this movie, a feat that involves the theatrical release rather than the Redux version (which although good in its own right is not a film I happen to own.) I find myself continually in a state of awe at just how dramatic the whole film turns out to be and also in regards towards just how the different kinds of insane absurdity as well as disorder that could only be found in Vietnam are assembled for the finished film. Of course I feel that it is safe to say that the majority of the audience may find themselves completely in awe of Coppola. Not only for completing this, but for doing so without going completely insane or even dying in the process. Yet even when you get past the hero worship, there is absolutely no denying that Coppola’s skills as both an orator as well as a actor’s director are at one of the high points of a legendary career. Yet even with Coppola’s talents on display, I still feel that there are other equally as praiseworthy elements behind the camera that are just as prevalent and on display herein. For starters I honestly do not think enough praise can be given to the cinematography work done by Vittorio Storaro. Indeed if Coppola is responsible for making this film, from a narrative perspective, the epic that it is, then Storaro is the chief in charge of ensuring that the film is able to look like the epic that it is and in that regard his work on this film is absolutely spot-on in every way. Also I felt that the music contained within the film was the absolutely best balance of both creepy and sinister with particular kudos going to both the song used in this film at just the perfect moments by that amazing band known as The Doors as well as to Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner being used in a way that I am honestly surprised that no one ever thought of before, but that has since become ingrained in the annals of cinematic history the world over. We also must give thanks to the editing department headed by Walter Murch. Indeed they are the heroes who ensured that the movie went from an over four-hour fiasco to a film that ensures that the action beats work when they are supposed to as well as for distinct moments to also get their spotlight as well. Finally it must be said that even the work done by the production design team is truly incredible. This is because not only do they wonderful work in bringing quite vividly to life not only the extremely limited adaptation of the source material by Joseph Conrad, but also the grim reality of just what life on one of these riverboats must’ve been like for the men who sailed and worked on them.

Now the performances in this film are chillingly spot-on. Indeed for evidence of this fact, the best example I can give is of Marlon Brando, yes the infamous Marlon Brando, managing to give what I would honestly consider to be his final truly excellent performance as the absolutely insane, and maniacal with a deity complex on the side Colonel Kurtz. In other words: this is Marlon Brando playing himself had he gone into the Army rather than pursued a career in acting. All quasi-serious jokes aside, this is such an iconic performance that in the moments when Brando is in the movie you literally find yourself wanting to look everywhere else, but in his eyes because you’re afraid he is going to steal your soul or worse. Indeed this is just as legendary as his performance in The Godfather and Brando does manage to do some pretty remarkable work in this. Yet Brando is not the sole exceptional talent in this as we also get phenomenal work from Martin Sheen who gives a terrific performance as our reluctant guide and narrator through this trip of absolute madness that is easily among the top 5 he has ever done. Indeed it absolutely baffles me as to why the Academy didn’t see fit to give Oscar nods to Brando and Sheen for their performances, albeit more Sheen than Brando, but still. Also contributing in an enjoyable way to the insanity is Robert Duvall as a gung-ho leader of an Air Cav unit. Indeed in about 25-30 minutes of screen time Duvall gives the film a lunacy all his own as we see that not only is his eccentric character capable of some truly outlandish strategies in the heat of conflict, chief among them playing Ride of the Valkyries whilst heading to battle, but he is also an avid surfer to the point that he and some of his men attempt to surf whilst a battle is actually going on. Suffice it to say then that Duvall manages to provide yet another iconic performance in a career that honestly has been chock full of them. We also get some other wonderful support work from Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms and Frederic Forest as the crew of the riverboat that is shanghai’ d into carrying Sheen on his mission. Indeed this trio all do a wonderful job of representing the various attitudes that quite a few of the soldiers who took part in Vietnam truly felt from anger and resignation all the way to frustration and an extreme case of weariness. Finally, in what literally amount to extended cameos we also get phenomenal work from both Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford as an unhinged photojournalist who has been living in Kurtzworld for a bit too long and a general’s aide with a very self-aware/ wink and nudge name (especially when you realize that the first Star Wars had only come out 2 years prior) respectively. Indeed this is one cast that manages to do nothing less than phenomenal all across the board and the film is all the better for it.

Now I am not gonna fib dear reader: in quite a few ways Apocalypse Now is an oddity in that this film was not the cleanest thing in the world to really dissect and attempt to analyze. Indeed I think it is safe to say the conclusion of this film might just absolutely baffle a lot of you out there. Yet I will try my best to explain it: what this whole movie boils down, and what it really is focusing on, is the dark side of every human being and their psyche. Indeed the horror that Kurtz talks about is not the actual conflict in Vietnam; rather it’s realizing just what effects that a war can truly have. Also even though Kurtz at one point tells Willard “You have a right to kill me, but you have no right to judge me” that’s not entirely true. I say that because Kurtz is most definitely left to each and every one of us to both judge and interpret in our way. Indeed to many he may give off the vibe that he is a nutty looney tune that let his authority get the best of him. Yet I don’t think that is what the movie wants us to think of him. Instead I think that during his time in the conflict in ‘Nam, I simply think that Kurtz came to realize just how fortunate he has it and how unfortunate others have had it. In addition, during his time going through villages that his troops must have utterly decimated, he also must have come to see that we as people can become completely naive and blind to the world around us as well as to what could possibly go wrong until reality hits us like a ton of bricks. Thus by seeing the misfortunes of the Vietnamese, Kurtz must have come to the realization that the roles could easily have been reversed and he could one day end up just like them. Thus even though for a lot of audiences they think the horror is only one concept I think it is two. They are not only the reality of just how clueless we can truly be, but also about just how grave of an impact that a conflict can have upon us and our fellow man. Indeed by the end of the film even Willard has come to see just what Kurtz has been seeing. Not just the effect that war can have, but also to see all these soldiers walking around with no real concept of what is just or unjust to do to both their fellow man during a conflict and themselves as well. The horror indeed…

All in all Apocalypse Now is gorgeous yet also quite evocative. It is also the very definition of how war truly is the worst possible hell on Earth, horrifying in just how brilliant it manages to get this message across, and majestically designed in how it manages to shove you slowly, but surely into the horrors and oddity that Captain Willard finds himself facing on his journey into this true heart of darkness and madness. Indeed this isn’t just one of the most excellent movies ever created, but it is also an incredibly insightful and analytical journey to places that most of us could barely even begin to imagine. Indeed this, alongside perhaps The Godfather trilogy, is easily the defining film of Francis Ford Coppola’s career since he put so much on the line in order to make this movie work as well as it ultimately did. Indeed a film that really truly deserves its very spot as one of the most iconic in the American cinema wall of fame, but is also a movie that will be remembered for a long time for what it has brought to modern-day cinema as well as a truly iconic film going experience that everyone should have the pleasure of seeing at least once. Indeed at the end of the day therefore, I guess the best way to sum all this up is if you want to see an example of what cinema can look like when it is at its most fulfilling and at its most pure through and through then Apocalypse Now is the film for you. On a scale of 1-5 I give Apocalypse Now a solid 5 out of 5.