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Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now, 1979

Ben Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a mission to assassinate an out-of-control renegade commander named Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Aboard a river boat with a small crew (Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, and Albert Hall), Willard ventures deeper and deeper into the country and scenes of madness.

I have seen Apocalypse Now several times. Despite liking and respecting it, I find that I don't often have much to say about it. Not because there aren't many things to praise or discuss, but because so much has been written about it---heck, even within this thread---that I often feel like I'm just retreading conversations that have already been had about it.

What I think I love most about the film---in both its structure and as a narrative--is the way that it feels relentless and yet formless. So often, there is no tangible enemy. The characters are confronted with scene after scene of madness, and in turn madness seems like almost the only rational response.

I think it's the sign of a strong film when sequences that have been parodied to death can still have an impact. Duvall's Kilgore, the sequence with the Flight of the Valkyries, the scenes in Kurtz's compound. These all still had an impact, as did the building sense of foreboding.

The actors are all pretty pitch perfect in their roles. I'd forgotten about the way that Sheen's Willard starts in a daze and just slips deeper and deeper into it.

This time through I still had a quibble with the way that the Vietnamese people are essentially used as background scenery. Kurtz taking on a whole group of them as his "children" feels patronizing without a sense of how he's so captured their loyalty. (I mean, we sort of see it's through fear and cunning, but his isn't ever articulated by someone who is actually Vietnamese). The film isn't unsympathetic and we of course see numerous atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians. But often they feel more like props than real characters.

Definitely a film I'm glad I saw on the big screen (even if it was the slightly bloated Redux version).