Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Running Time: 116 mins
Full Metal Jacket is an American film about a US Marine who experiences the brutal effects of the Vietnam War on the soldiers, as he moves from a training camp to the bloody battles on the streets of Hue.
One of the greatest war films of all time brought to you by one of the greatest directors of all time, Full Metal Jacket is an absolute masterpiece from Stanley Kubrick. As powerfully anti-war as it can get, and complete with a memorable blend of incredibly black humour and sheerly desperate drama, the film is mesmerising from beginning to end, and packs a real emotional punch throughout.
First off, however it’s important to look at Full Metal Jacket in two distinct parts. Although it’s one film as a whole, and features consistent themes throughout, there are still two very distinct stories told here, split between the first half, set in the Marines’ training camp, and the second, set in country right in the thick of the Vietnam War.
The first half of the film is undoubtedly its most amazing. From the very first scene, Kubrick subjects you to a barrage of the most intense military drills and insults imaginable, courtesy of an exceptional (and now legendary) performance from R. Lee Ermey. As we follow a group of cadets being reared ‘to be killers’, the film demonstrates a powerful message about how war, and the Vietnam War in particular, can go from fighting for the right cause to something all the more senseless.
Unlike the notion of fighting for freedom and liberty portrayed in so many Second World War films, the way in which the soldiers are trained in this film sees them lose all of their humanity, being put through the toughest drills possible, to the point where they either lose their souls or their minds altogether, as is portrayed in the powerfully unsettling development of one character in particular over the course of the first act.
What’s even more striking, however, is the way in which the film uses humour to further its rather desperate and gloomy central message. You may not think that comedy is appropriate in a war film like this, but the particularly dark and ironic brand of humour that Kubrick employs is particularly appropriate in emphasising just how mindless the attitude of the army was at times. Whether it be the drill sergeant’s excessively harsh and aggressive (almost cartoonish) persona, or simply the drastic transition of the privates from normal young men to soulless killing machines, you can be sure that Kubrick’s incredible dark humour has a place in the story, and a unique one in the film’s central anti-war message.
The dark humour continues through into the second half of the film, as we travel to the Nam and see what a farce the war was at times. Looking at incompetence and lack of foresight in the higher ranks, as well as a general lack of order and purpose amongst the ground troops, the film continues to push its stark anti-war message through use of dark humour, a particularly unsettling yet endlessly effective device that makes for a truly memorable watch.
As for the rest of the second half, we see our boys from the training camp thrust into battle in Southeast Asia, and the film’s dark perspective on the war turns even more so. With the whole film taking on a visually more gloomy appearance as we delve into the wastelands created by the war, everything grows darker and darker as a whole series of horrible errors and injustices of the war are exposed. The film isn’t a true story, but its parallels to the history are clear at every moment, something that makes it a truly powerful watch.
In short, Full Metal Jacket is an absolute classic of war cinema. With a powerful anti-war message throughout that reminds you of the worst horrors that victims of war can suffer, no matter what side they’re on, and a unique yet striking use of dark humour from Stanley Kubrick, it’s a film that will really stay with you for a long time afterwards, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.6.