Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Synopsis & Analysis
Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, which relates the experiences of a young Marine recruit (Matthew Modine) from the time he arrives at basic training at Parris Island, where he receives the nickname Joker, through his adventures as a reporter in the Vietnam War, up to his involvement in the battle for Hue, is a generally well realized, often even brilliant film, but, somehow, it is not as satisfying as it could have been.

The movie is filled with a plethora of captivating scenes. The very first sequence, for example, in which Joker and his fellow recruits are introduced to a loud and vicious drill sergeant with a talent for shockingly obnoxious and unsettlingly funny insults, is sure to make a profound impression on the viewer. Others, such as those depicting the abuse and gradual mental deterioration of one of these recruits, who, being slow and overweight, has been nicknamed Private Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio) by the drill instructor, are similarly simultaneously humorous and sad. A great many moments besides these, like those in which Joker, having arrived in Vietnam, haggles with a local prostitute while his partner's camera is being stolen or expostulates on the dichotomy of man to a baffled and irate colonel, are animated with that same mixture of comedy and sorrow that is present in the earlier scenes. Actually, Kubrick successfully balances such emotions through the whole of the movie and allows each to complement and intensify the other.

These elements, as well as the consistently skilfully performances of the actors, make nearly every scenario depicted in Full Metal Jacket a mesmerizing little work of art. The viewer is drawn in each into a violent, highly sexualized world, where men brutally slaughter or victimize one another or relish the brief moments away from such horrors. Though Kubrick certainly brings out the fear and misery of all these situations, he also reveals the way they intoxicate some of the persons participating in them. The director reveals how such individuals revel in savagery, how they butcher women and children for sport. He even shows how decent people laugh and make light of the deaths of those around them. The humorousness of these situations, fortunately, always emphasizes their sadness and tragedy.

Regrettably, although the movie is always very good, it is not ultimately inspired. Perhaps its greatest fault is that its parts never come together to form a satisfying whole. Individual scenes are often suffused with the breath of genius, but the impact of one does not add to that of the next. Their effect, consequently, remains disjointed rather than accumulative.

While I am disinclined to claim that Full Metal Jacket is a truly great movie, it is always skillfully done, often genuinely affecting, and absolutely packed with memorable incidents. Though I was not awed by the film, I was impressed by it.

Review by Keith Allen

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