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Apocalypse Now - "Someday this war is gonna end..." retro movie review

by Andy Johnson. Published Thu 04 Nov 2021 16:38, last updated: 04/11/21

Which mask to wear today? Heroes wear masks. Demons wear masks. Everybody wears masks. Don't forget you need one to enter your nearest supply store or place of worship.

Madness comes in many forms. None more potent or terrifying than the grisly realities of war. Apocalypse Now explores the effects of mania and how bearing witness to horrific acts can change a person's nature irrevocably.

We follow Captain Willard, played with subtle aplomb by Charlie Sheen. On a top secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade Army Special Forces officer accused of murder, presumed insane and beyond salvation.

"Let the bodies pile up!" It's not beyond the imagination that an army captain might be dispatched to target a renegade Boris.

"Go up river, surf the canal, past the Tory donor sponsored private Playbunny show in the HS2 jungle and into vastly overpriced interior design stores... to terminate Johnson's command with extreme prejudice."

The opening sequence is a visually stunning piece of cinematography. We see Willard's face upside down, transposed over a backdrop of flames, helicopters and carnage as he struggles to cope with a mental breakdown.

Apocalypse Now is a masterwork in character studies. Coppola presents one fantastic personification of existential struggle after another. With the river journey becoming the connecting link.

One character almost steals the show. Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. With an air of invincibility, oblivious to exploding bombs, he stands tall while the rest of his platoon cower from enemy fire. He lives to ride the waves of warfare.

"If I say this beach is safe to surf Captain, it's safe to surf!" The moment when Kilgore rips off his shirt to reveal just an orange bib, ready to take the waves amidst Napalm bombs will stay with you long after the film has ended.

His appearance is beguiling and repulsive in equal measure. Watching Kilgore being left behind without his surfboard stings every time.

Never have I wanted the movie's narrative to break away and follow a different character so intently.

A scene where Kilgore saves a Vietnamese baby was cut, much to the bemusement of Duvall. Who speaks painfully about it in interviews as he felt it showed a softer, more human side to the maniacal Colonel.

There's many famous faces in this film. If you're watching with a first time viewer, you can have fun asking them to spot a young Lawrence Fishburne, battling with the harsh realities around him, long before any idea of taking a red pill.

When Dennis Hopper appears as a tripped-out photographer, capturing the atrocity at the gates to Hell, with breezy optimism, it's a welcome breath of comic relief.

Behind the scenes Hopper took great delight in winding up Marlon Brando. So much so that The Easy Rider star had to be banished from set before Brando would appear.

The journey along the river has swelled up enormous anticipation for Col Kurtz. Brando soaks it up and pours it over Willard, his surviving crewmates and the audience.

Shining from the shadows. Just a pair of brooding eyes and a ghostly face. He's been expecting us. Reading poetry aloud and revealing how studying the Vietcong's warfare has driven him deranged.

There is a flicker of tenderness, when Kurtz asks Willard where he's from and recounts a day he spent sailing the Ohio River: 'where heaven fell on Earth in the form of gardenias.'

If Willard wasn't born in Toledo, he might not have been spared Kurtz's wrath. This is the human condition laid bare. The need to connect, and the desire to reflect what we see in others. The recognition of the same madness in Willard, is what keeps him alive.

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