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USA 1979
Directed by
Francis Ford Coppola
153 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Apocalypse Now

Although there are some who carp at Apocalypse Now arguing that the film is overblown, romanticizing and entirely Americentric in its portrayal of the Vietnam War it is difficult to argue with Coppola's achievement as a director or that of his creative team included cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, sound designer Walter Murch and production designer, Dean Tavoularis.

Based on Conrad's novel, "Heart of Darkness", Coppola and co-writer John Milius, tell the story of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who is sent on a mission to "terminate" Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a one-time West Point golden boy who has gone feral in the jungles of Cambodia. Coppola brings home the madness of the Vietnam war as no other director has managed to (Michael Cimino did a fine job with The Deer Hunter in 1978, Oliver Stone had two goes at it with Platoon in 1986 and Born On The Fourth of July in 1989 and Kubrick misfired with Full Metal Jacket in 1987) as he takes us on Willard's surreal journey up the Mekong river to Kurtz's lair..

It is a journey that morphs through a number of brilliantly conceived and realized set pieces (only the USO concert is a tad disappointing in this respect) from Col Kilgore's attack on a Vietcong village, solely because it has good waves for surfing, to the film's culmination in the ghoulish backwater of Kurtz's decaying refuge (although the end credits of Kurtz's compound exploding also serve as a breathtaking postscript). Martin Sheen (who replaced Harvey Keitel who was cast after Steve McQueen turned down the role) is outstanding as Willard, his raspy narration, unusually for the device, involving us in his trenchantly self-contained point-of-view. Like us, Willard remains separate from what he witnesses and he thus becomes a kind of pod by which Coppola takes us on this remarkable jouirney into the heart of darkness.

FY!: There was a 70mm version which did not have the exploding Kurtz compound of the 35mm release whilst in 2000 Coppola released a new version, Apocalypse Now Redux, a 202 minute version which changes some of the scenes of the original theatrical release whilst introducing some entirely new segments, including a lengthy sequence in which Willard visits some French plantation owners and one in which the boys on the boat hook-up with some Playboy Bunnies in the jungle as well as lengthening the final confrontation with Kurtz. As with much of Coppola's later work, self-indulgence got the better of him.

Anyone wanting to know more about the film should check out Hearts Of Darkness a 1991 documentary by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper about the making of Apocalypse Now with footage and journal entries from Coppola's wife, Eleanor.

 

 

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