Full Metal Jacket is one of the best war films ever made and certainly one of the most unique, probably because it was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick proved he was a master director of war with Paths of Glory, his critically acclaimed World War I film. He solidified his reputation with Dr. Strangelove, his satire of the Cold War. Full Metal Jacket further demonstrates this and is a combination of these two films. There are many funny moments in the movie as well as some of the most haunting images you’ll ever seen on a movie screen.
The film is made up of two parts. The first half takes place in a boot camp under control of Drill Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey), who ruthlessly dominates the recruits under his authority. He gives them nicknames that stick throught the entire film: Private Joker (Matthew Modine), a soldier who uses his humor to get through the war, Cowboy (Arliss Howard), a man excited to enter Vietnam, and Gomer Pyle (Vince D’Onofrio), a chubby misfit Hartman bullies to the edge.
This half plays out satire similar to Dr. Strangelove. Hartman barks out orders to the men and shouts out words so absurd you’ll both laugh and be shocked. Pyle has a mental breakdown, and becomes a figure of Hartman’s dream marine.
The second part is in Vietnam. Joker has been enlisted into the reporter group, where he learns about military propaganda in a scene similar to Dr. Strangelove. He eventually enters the battle lines with Cowboy as well as a gung-ho marine named Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin).
Some people might find Full Metal Jacket off-putting due to its nature and complain that the humor and violence don’t mix. I disagree with this opinion, and believe the film works out perfectly. The scripts, written by Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford, explores the dehumanization of the soldiers. The first half of the film has the characters become cold blooded killers. In the second half we see how they act in the actual war.
Full Metal Jacket doesn’t only mock the idiocy of the Vietnam War but is also an attack on the principles of the Reagan administration and the Cold War. Kubrick mocks Hartman and the soldiers’ belief that the US army is an invincible battering ram that can’t be stopped. In one scene a colonel declares that the US army is helping the Vietnamese, yet they don’t seem to care. Sergeant Hartman’s speeches echo themes of the current period: that violence is the only way to make peace. In one scene Hartman even brings up Charles Whitman (who killed twelve people) and Lee Harvey Oswald (who shot Kennedy) as two great marksmen of the past trained by the marines. In another we see a group of interviews of the platoon in Vietnam, giving their views on the war. These interviews have humor in them but also an ominous message about war itself.
The performances in Full Metal Jacket really help push the film. Lee Ermey actually formerly was a drill sergeant and is pitch perfect in his role. His character is profane as he pushes many of the film’s most memorable moments. Vince D’Onofrio is haunting in his role and feels completely believable. The relationship between Hartman and Pyle adds not only humor but some of the most intense moments in the movie.
Kubrick is known for his elaborate direction, and it is very evident in here. We’re given images of helicopters and tanks. The climax takes place in an enormous broken down city, which Kubrick had built in a set in England. Pretty much every other Vietnam film takes place in the jungles, which potentially could have hurt the movie but Kubrick makes it work perfectly. He uses common themes the recur throughout his movies like irony and dehumanization. He lets us explore the characters.
Full Metal Jacket explores the deepness of the soldiers’ emotions. In Paths of Glory Kubrick showed the horror of fighting. He does so with Full Metal Jacket as well, but also analyzes the fun of fighting. The men are taught that killing is good, and in some scene the men talk about their triumphs in the battlefield and how they can’t wait to enter the war zone. The characters really seem to enjoy fighting and shooting their guns at the enemy. But when they realize the danger and ferocity of war, their opinion changes and Kubrick reveals the moral of the story.
A triumph in filmmaking, Full Metal Jacket is a picture not to be missed. With its diverse selection of characters and elaborate direction, the movie succeeds in moving the audience and ranks as one of the best war films of all time.