Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” – A Movie Review

Kubrick produced some very memorable films.  All the ones I’ve seen are extremely idiosyncratic.  Full Metal Jacket is definitely in the same mold.  It tells the story of a group of U.S. Marines from boot camp to their participation in the Tet Offensive during the height of the Vietnam War.

In the opening scene the Drill Sargent played memorably by R. Lee Ermey berates and sometimes beats on the recruits to cow them and focus their attention on how serious their situation was.  I won’t reveal the details of the boot camp section of the movie but suffice it to say that the consequences of the discipline prove to be as serious as the consequences of war itself.

After the boot camp scenes we go directly to Vietnam and meet up with the new Marines.  One has ended up as a reporter with the military news service “Stars and Stripes.”  He is bored and anxious to get into the field to see the real war.  With the beginning of the Tet Offensive he gets his wish.  He’s sent up country and meets up with one of his boot camp buddies and joins their patrol.  Here he sees the real war with all the brutality and even criminality associated with a guerilla war.  And here we meet the most interesting character of the movie, Animal Mother played by the inimitable Adam Baldwin.  He’s the M60 machine gunner of the platoon wearing ammunitions belts like bandoliers across his chest and shooting an enormous number of rounds at anything that fired at him.  When asked how the war should end he stated that the “smart guys” should bomb North Vietnam into surrendering.  He’s brutal and completely uninterested in helping the South Vietnamese, only in killing the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and anyone else who gives him trouble.

The final battle scenes show the patrol running into a sniper position.  One of their men is hit in a forward position.  The acting squad leader is worried that a large North Vietnamese force is ahead and doesn’t allow his men to retrieve the downed man even after the sniper continues to wound him with additional shots.  Finally after seeing the wounded man hit several times, Animal Mother charges in.  He manages to reach cover and determines that a lone sniper is at work.  When the patrol reaches him they take further casualties including the acting squad leader.  The final scenes show the ironic nature of this unconventional war and the effect it has on the Americans who have to navigate it.  But as insane as their world has become, they still celebrate the fact that they’ve survived what so many have not.

Based on the tone of his earlier movie “Doctor Strangelove” I assume Kubrick was not a patriotic cheerleader of the Vietnam War but I would say he represented the war right down the middle.  He showed the horror but he doesn’t have the men represented by only pacifists.  They represent a cross-section of attitudes.  They show a cross section of behaviors from humane to sadistic.

It’s been called a classic.  I’d say Full Metal Jacket is a Kubrick style take on the Vietnam War.  I have a brother-in-law who was in the Tet Offensive.  I remember his description of what went on and it seems to jibe very closely to what Kubrick is showing.  That speaks well of what Kubrick made.  I think it’s a good movie and one of the few representations of that war that gets it right.