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Apocalypse Now

Released: 1979

Genre: War

Runtime: 3 hr 17 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Harrison Ford

During the on-going Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Green Beret who has set himself up as a God among a local tribe.

But still it is an amazing achievement worth many viewings.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 7 years ago

Twenty-two years after Francis Ford Coppola finished his masterpiece, APOCALYPSE NOW, he has recut the film, adding in almost an extra hour of footage into a new version titled APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX. Although it runs over three-and-a-quarter hours, it feels shorter than your average hour and a half movie. It is so mesmerizing that I kept forgetting to shift in my seat, causing posterior to start to hurt.

APOCALYPSE NOW is the big movie that Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted to make, but he had to make THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER: PART 2 first in order to get the studio backing and the money. The filming was a disaster in about every way imaginable, including being struck by a typhoon. The result was that it took him 16 months rather than the scheduled 6 weeks to complete the filming. By the end, Coppola was broke and had lost 100 pounds, but he finally had his magnum opus finished.

As the story opens, we meet Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a man way past his breaking point. Willard is played brilliantly by Martin Sheen, who had a heart attack during the filming. The genius of the film comes almost as much from Sheen as Coppola. In particular, Sheen's intimate, diary-like narration is the best part of the movie. The film's script is by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. (The film's title appears only in graffiti, very late in the film. There are absolutely no opening credits.)

"For my sins, they gave me a mission," Willard tells us sadly and fatalistically in voice-over as, drunk and bloody, he crashes around his Saigon hotel room. A former CIA operative, Willard is tired, very tired and hopeless.

A very young and awkward Harrison Ford, as Colonel G Lucas, gives Willard his assignment. Lucas orders Willard to terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). "Terminate with extreme prejudice," a man identified only as a civilian (Jerry Ziesmer) clarifies the orders. After this, Lucas adds, "You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist nor will it ever exist."

Willard boards a small boat to go way up river into Cambodia in order to locate Kurtz. Willard exists in a world of his own. He doesn't belong in Vietnam, but, after having recently gone home, he realizes that he doesn't belong there anymore either. He feels quite different from the young soldiers on the small boat with him. They smoke dope and drop acid as they head through deadly territory. A 14-year-old "Larry" Fishburne (THE MATRIX) plays one of these solders.

Willard wonders why they want Kurtz killed. Is it just politics? The more he reads about Kurtz from his dossier, the more he comes to admire him. Dennis Hopper, as a spaced-out, freelance photographer, calls Kurtz, "a poet warrior in the classic sense."

Along the way, Willard meets Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), an officer nicknamed "Big Duke." With his large hat, golden ascot and the looks of a GQ model, Kilgore is a fearless soldier who thinks no bullet can touch him and who prides himself on taking care of his men. He's also a huge surfing fan. When he finds the perfect wave, at least as perfect as can be found in Vietnam, he orders his surfers to suit up. But since this is in the middle of a battle, the napalm, much to Kilgore's chagrin, spoils the wind and hence the surf.

One of the film's most impressive visuals is of Kilgore's air cavalry helicopters coming in to bomb and strafe a village. As they swoop down from the skies, Kilgore orders "The Ride Of The Valkyries" to be played loudly on the helicopter's loudspeakers in order to scare the villagers.

With sweeping vistas, incredible sound effects and dramatic music and with soldiers seen frequently in mud, blood, sweat and war paint, Coppola paints a surrealistic view of the war from realistic parts. This is in contrast to another brilliant war movie, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which Spielberg made equally horrifying using photorealism.

One of the many added scenes in APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX is one with Playboy bunnies in which the young soldiers try to pose them in the same position as they were in their centerfold pictures. It comes off sadly touching.

This hell on earth is best described by one of the men deep in the jungle who tells Willard, "You're in the asshole of the world." Willard keeps encountering leaderless troops, which can be viewed as a metaphor for the Vietnam War itself.

Keep an eye out for Coppola in a cameo. He appears as a television director who instructs Willard to act natural during a firefight since they are filming it.

The question for reviewers is whether to evaluate APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX on its own or compare it to the original. Since it has been too long since I've seen the original, I'll evaluate it on its own. It's an incredible film and a classic, but it's not quite perfect. A lot less of Brando would have been better, and the film's last act isn't as good as the rest of the picture. But still it is an amazing achievement worth many viewings. Whatever you do, don't pass on the probably brief opportunity to see APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX on the big screen.

APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX runs a surprisingly short feeling 3:17 (not including the ending credits). The film is rated R for disturbing violent images, language, sexual content and some drug use and would be acceptable for older teenagers.