Warner Bros. // 1987 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 20th, 2012
Vietnam can kill me, but it can't make me care.
"Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills."
Stanley Kubrick's much-lauded portrait of the Vietnam war follows the long, difficult journey of Pvt. J.T. "Joker" Davis (Matthew Modine, The Dark Knight Rises). We begin with Joker's time in basic training, where he witnesses a merciless drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) relentlessly hounding the overweight, underperforming Pvt. Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio, Men in Black). Later, Joker finds himself working as a military journalist, providing war correspondence for Stars and Stripes. He's sent on a dangerous mission to Phu Bai, where it's expected that Joker will be able to witness some combat up-close. During his time there, he witnesses some terrible sights and works alongside such colorful figures as Eightball (Dorian Harewood, Against All Odds), Animal (Adam Baldwin, Firefly), Cowboy (Arliss Howard, The Lost World: Jurassic Park), Touchdown (Ed O'Ross, Six Feet Under) and Rafter Man (Kevyn Major Howard, The A-Team).
One of these days, I'm going to try starting Full Metal Jacket from the 45-minute mark and see how plays as a 72-minute feature film. Much of what the film has to offer during its extended second half is thoughtful and technically impressive material, but it never really makes much of an impact on me in the wake of the film's stunning opening section. It's the rare movie that makes the mistake of setting the bar entirely too high for itself.
The opening 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket essentially form a brilliant, atypically lengthy short film. It's fueled by a relentless performance from R. Lee Ermey, who delivers a turn so iconic that it would firmly define the rest of his career. Ermey's ferocious drill sergeant offers a tidal wave of profane insults, sexually-charged metaphors and negative reinforcement in mesmerizing fashion; it's a double-edged performance that is simultaneously funny and frightening. He's every movie drill sergeant distilled into a single human being; a man so good at his job that he's as celebrated as he is condemned by movie buffs (I don't know how many people I've encountered who have suggested that the military needs more leaders like Ermey's character).
Ermey's blustery performance is given sad counterpoint in the form of Vincent D'Onofrio's turn as the hapless as Private Gomer Pyle. Watching D'Onofrio's slow-burn frustration and humiliation begin to build steam as Ermey continues his torrent of verbal abuse is hypnotizing, and the final confrontation between the two is a scene of terrifying power that very explicitly harkens back to some of the darkest moments in A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. It's a chilling climax, and attempting to press forward with the rest of Full Metal Jacket afterwards is akin to watching the first hour of No Country for Old Men and then switching to the second hour of U.S. Marshals. The latter is okay on its own terms, but by no means a satisfying follow-up to the former.
If the first part Full Metal Jacket seems to draw from a host of movie drill sergeant scenes it eventually transcends, the second part seems drawn in a host of Vietnam movie scenes it doesn't distinguish itself from. Watching Kubrick's gritty drama play out, we're reminded of how similarly -- and honestly, how much more effectively -- this material was handled in films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. Even the bolder strokes of the film's second half (using playful pop tunes of the era to underscore scenes of carnage, for instance) feel pretty conventional, and Matthew Modine's performance as Joker simply isn't strong enough keep us interested when the plot starts tossing out clichés. Full Metal Jacket is a movie that has some valuable things to say, but it says most of them long before the end credits start rolling.
So what about this double-dip hi-def release? Full Metal Jacket (Blu-ray) 25th Anniversary Digibook presents the exact same transfer we received back in 2007. Thankfully, that was a strong transfer to begin with, boasting exceptional depth and clarity, so the folks at Warner Bros. can't really be accused of missing a big opportunity. The lossless PCM 5.1 Surround track is also precisely the same, and yes, it was also quite impressive from the start. Those who own the initial release (and honestly, most fans of the movie probably do, given that it's been available at a rather low price for some time now) will only find new stuff in the supplemental department. Honestly, the best special features are the ones ported over from the earlier release: the audio commentary featuring Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey and screenwriter Jay Cocks and half-hour featurette entitled "Between Good and Evil," which details the making of the film. The second disc included with this set houses a new hour-long documentary entitled "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes," in which director Joe Ronson digs through a bunch of boxes at the Kubrick estate and talks about it. Some interesting stuff here (it reminded me a bit of the nifty memorabilia-themed featurettes included on the Blu-ray releases of Sergio Leone's spaghetti western flicks), but it's hardly essential and only loosely related to Full Metal Jacket. Other than that, you just get the digibook packaging with the glossy, full-color pages featuring bios, behind-the-scenes info and photos.
The first 45 minutes of Full Metal Jacket are more than enough to justify adding the film to your personal collection, but it's a shame that the movie doesn't know how to follow the strength of its powerful opening tale. The new Blu-ray digibook is an attractive-looking package, but doesn't offer enough new material of substance to warrant an upgrade from the previous release.
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R