Apocalypse Now Redux
Directed by Frances Ford Coppola
Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duval
Viet Nam was a long, bloody war. Apocalypse Now is a long, bloody movie. Captain Willard (Sheen) is one of those specialists in plausible denial, doing the dirty work of a particularly dirty conflict. Today’s assignment – terminate the command of Cmd. Kurtz (Brando), whose methods have become… unsound. A brilliant career officer, Kurtz has gone far beyond the bounds set by the politicos in Washington and now acts with a private army far up the Nung River, deep inside of Cambodia. He’s brutally effective, yet beyond the control of the joint chief. Thus… unsound. Willard’s journey takes a small river patrol boat from the Americanized conclave of Saigon through progressively more nightmarish scenes until he confronts Kurtz, hears his confession, and does his duty to his country and this very commanding officer.
It’s difficult to describe this film without some reference to the original. The air cavalry fighting scenes are superb, with gonzo Captain Kilgore (Duvall) blowing up gook villages on a daily basis. He takes casualties in stride, with the aura of a military commander who KNOWS he’s invincible. Kurtz’s dialog, particularly the tapes of his broadcasts near the beginning are much cleaner – you can actually understand what he’s saying, and begin to understand why the military thought him insane. There’s a good deal more explanation of places and their military/political significance. Two long sequences are added, none of which add to the story but which push the running time over three hours. One involves a stop at a beleaguered French rubber plantation, explaining in detail the motivation of both the French and Americans in this rotten corner of the world. Interesting, but wordy. In another, Willard swaps two drums of fuel oil so the crew of the boat can have a go at the Playboy bunnies – it seems a bit out of character for him, but it does have some very nice gratuitous nudity. There’s a lot more explicit gore, with heads and body parts lying about in profusion. This version feels bloated – the original was much a much tighter story.
Morally, there is little difference between Kurtz’s actions and those of the regular Army. If anything, Kurtz acts with more focus, only killing as is militarily needed, while the rest of the US army shoots anything that looks at them cross-eyed. Kurtz is the warrior, the rest are dilettantes, fighting uselessly against a dedicated enemy that will pay any price to remove the foreign devils. This war is a surreal hallucination, with no clear front, no clear enemy, and no clear way to declare victory and go home. It’s a sobering story, particularly with America standing on the brink of a potentially similar conflict.