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See, now here’s a movie where Willem Defoe is brilliant. I really do think it’s all about the director. And you can add Oliver Stone to the list of director’s that can handle his talent (it’s a lonely list, the only other director being David Lynch).
In Platoon, we’ve got another movie at Vietnam. This one starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger and said Defoe and a young Johnny Depp and a young Forest Whitaker. The movie centers around Sheen’s character, Pvt. Taylor, and his loss of innocence and spiral into madness.
Throughout the movie, we get to hear Taylor writing letters to his grandma, essentially narrating the story. As a result of me actually enjoying this part of the story, I must add a corollary to the I comment I made about narration in my Boondock Saints review: narration is okay if A) You’re writing letters to your sweet grandmother and B) if you’re Charlie Kaufman.
So we see Taylor do the quintessential things that one would do whilst spiraling into madness. He smokes weed for the first time, he begins to smoke cigarettes, and he kills his first person.
And this is a good thing that he goes mad, because at the beginning of the movie he’s the whiniest son of a bitch you’ve ever seen. Collapsing and complaining about ants and shit. At the same time, though, it goes to show that not all soldiers start out hardasses–instead, that’s what they become as the war eats them alive.
And this movie’s focus is definitely on the internal effects of war than on the external effects of the Northern Vietnam Army and their ingenious leaf helmets.
So, holy shit. This wound up being an Oliver Stone movie I actually enjoyed. Though he generally has a penchant for making trash (like Born on the Fourth of July and the drudgery of JFK–only one of which can be blamed on Tom Cruise) like the upcoming W film starring Josh Brolin as the president, he has actually surprised me with this one. And I’m probably going along with some people in the Academy of Motion Pictures and yadda yadda yadda because they gave this film Best Picture in 1986. And I’d like to think that half of it was out of the surprise that it’s actually a great movie. Probably my third favorite movie about Vietnam, only surpassed by Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now.
So, kudos to you Mr. Stone. Maybe you should have never directed another movie after your opus.
When I first heard of this movie as a senior, I was intrigued. But I never saw it. Why? Because I’m a lazy cunt when it comes to seeing films sometimes. And I also get obsessed with seeing only one director’s films.
But I finally saw it. Forest Whitaker playing a black samurai mafia hitman with a score done by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. It sounds like a pitch for the latest Chris Tucker film, but this is a film that, much like Jim Jarmusch likes to do, allows for lingering shots of the emotion in one’s face and the oft boredom of life.
Throughout the movie, we follow his character and are intersected with him reading sections from the Samurai for Dummies book Hagakure. What starts as a mafia film quickly becomes a revenge film. The mafia’s out to get Ghost Dog but they sure as shit ain’t gonna get him. They don’t know where he lives because they’ve never followed the pigeons that he uses as his only contact with them. They don’t know his real name. They don’t know what he looks like except that he’s black.
So they start killing every black guy on a roof wrangling pigeons, which is apparently only one. And I think it was the dad from “Family Matters”.
Anyway, Ghost Dog realizes that he suddenly has to protect his master, his retainer, Louie, who they are going to kill because Ghost Dog was his guy and Ghost Dog fucked up.
And by protecting him, I mean taking out the entire goddam mob in “The Industrial State.”
And that’s definitely something I noted while watching one scene where license plates are changed: the states. In the film, there are two of them: “The Industrial State,” and the “Highway State.” So we’re set in an alternate reality which allows us to dismiss the police for the most part–which is good because otherwise I’d be wondering why they weren’t doing dick to stop these guys.
So that’s one difference from a typical, cliche, mafia film. I made a list of some others:
- Aside from narrations, we don’t hear Ghost Dog speak directly to anyone until 35 minutes into the movie. He talks to a little girl in the park who he later gives the Hagakure to (which, along with one other character, definitely allowed for Ghost Dog 2).
- All the Japanese references. Rashomon parallels and the like.
- The fact that Ghost Dog is a fucking samurai. How awesome is that.
Also, what’s interesting is that the readings from the Hagakure first only reflect the actions of the mafia. That is, loyalty to their master and such. Because of the somehow botched hit, and the way that the hit was filmed, we are led to believe that he fucked up and disobeyed his master. But then we realize that these readings reflect both Ghost Dog and the mafia in either parallels or in interchanging pieces. Some only symbolize the mafia. And some only represent Ghost Dog. It’s pretty cool.
Jim Jarmusch did an excellent job with this film. The way that it was edited and shot allowed for the room of emotions. It’s not taut and ready to burst at the seems with what wants to go on. It allows for the movie to act for itself and to think for itself. And that’s the sign of a good director: an autonomous film like this one.