“The horror, the horror” comments Colonel Walter E Kurtz played by the great Marlon Brando as he takes his last breath in the Francis Ford Coppola directed masterpiece “Apocalypse Now”. This movie is based on a classic Joseph Conrad novella “The Heart of Darkness”. The greatness of this movie simply lies in the fact that the writers John Millus and Francis Ford Copolla (coincidentally also director) of this movie have managed not only to tell the story of Vietnam war through the basic plot of the book but also have managed to capture the reality of the war with brutal honesty as a result of which this movie is now considered to be amongst the all time classics in the world of cinema.
The plot is essentially not simplistic and basically tries to show darkness within the human heart through the eyes of the protagonist. The protagonist is a United States army and special operations specialist Captain Benjamin L Willard(Martin Sheen) who after returning from the war is living in a hotel in Saigon. It is at this point in time that Lt General Corman(GD Spradlin) and Colonel Lucas(Harrison Ford) offer him an assignment. The assignment involves following the Nung river into Cambodia to find and terminate with “extreme prejudice” an apparently insane ex Special Forces Colonel Walter E Kurtz(Marlon Brando) and his army of Montagnard troops he controls. With desperate need to go on a mission Willard accepts it without any hesitation. So for this mission he is provided with a Navy PBR(patrol boat) along with a crew of four members headed by George “Chief” Phillips(Albert Hall), Lance Johnson(Sam Bottoms), Jay “Chef” Hicks(Frederic Forrest), and “Mr Clean” Miller(Laurence Fishburne). Also along the journey Willard and his crew meet the eccentric Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore(Robert Duvall) who commands a squadron of attack helicopters and who helps escort the team into the river Nung. It is during the journey that Wilard realizes the futility of the war carried out in Vietnam. What Willard also learns through this journey is some facts about Colonel Kurtz through a dossier given to him at beginning of his mission. He also begins to establish a deep spiritual connection with Kurtz as result of which the need to confront him in person becomes essential. Towards the end of the journey Willard and is crew which is by now reduced to two (other two members having been killed) meet a crazy American photojournalist(Dennis Hopper) who explains to them the great philosophical skills of Kurtz and his great power over people. The rest of the movie is based on how the two characters i.e. Willard and Kurtz finally confront leading to a philosophically powerful and stunning climax.
With the movie being based on the Vietnam war the location used in this movie certainly reflects the mood of the war quite beautifully and all credit must go to Francis Ford Copolla. What also adds more charm to the realistic location is the great cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. So be it the aerial view of the war zone or the photography capturing the insane world of Kurtz it is all done with absolute realism and thus making it engaging viewing for the audience. What Vittori has also absolutely captured brilliantly is the brutality of war and hence very truly deserved an Academy Award for Cinematography at the 1979 Oscars. The music composed by Francis Coppola and Carmine Coppola is absolutely brilliant and adds a certain charm to the movie in totality. Also of note is the theme song “This is the end” by the great Jim Morrison which certainly blends beautifully with the theme of the movie. The sound design by Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nathan Boxer is outstanding and certainly gives the viewer a real feel of the war and hence it comes as no surprise that Academy Award for Best Sound in 1979 was deservingly awarded to them. The editing done by Richard Marks, Walter Murch, Gerald B Greenberg, and Lisa Fruchtman is brilliant and certainly makes sure that the narrative is flowing and does not drag along unnecessarily and truly deserved being nominated in the Best Editing category at the 1979 Academy Awards. The story and screenplay by John Millus and Francis Ford Coppola is extremely intriguing to say the least. What also makes it really interesting is the fact that the writers have quite brilliantly borrowed the basic plot from Joseph Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness” and set it in the Vietnam war. Last but not the least is the master class direction of the great Francis Ford Coppola. The ability Coppola shows in telling a complex story of not only the Vietnam war but also the darkness that exist in humans soul through his direction is not only fascinating to watch but also underlines the true genius of the man. The clear evidence of the mastery of Francis can be seen in the way he has treated the climax where Willard and Kurtz finally confront. Also the fact that Coppolla has managed to extract some fine performances from his cast especially Brando, Sheen, and Duvall speaks volumes of the class of this director.
As for performances from a great cast which to say the least is quite outstanding. So starting from Martin Sheen as Willard who plays the part of a passive onlooker with great ease. What he also brings out beautifully is the intense frustrations that his character feels as a result of living in a war zone. The great Robert Duvall as the eccentric Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore is absolutely brilliant in a short but important role. What Duvall does best is that he quite simply uses his personality to great effect to highlight the eccentricity within his character, and certainly deserved his nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category at the 1979 Academy awards. The supporting cast that includes GD Spradlin, Harrison Ford, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, and Laurence Fishburne are all competent and play their parts efficiently. Finally coming to the masterful performance of the movie by the great Marlon Brando as the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz is just brilliant. The best feature of Brando’s performance is the realism that he brings to his character that is supposed to be on the verge of insanity. What he is also brings outstandingly well is the raw animal magnetism which certainly helps give the character power that it required.
So with numerous awards and nominations to its credit this master piece directed by Francis Ford Coppola has certainly become a cult classic over the years and is definitely a must watch. Although what makes this movie truly special is the fact that this movie brutally exposes the true face of what we humans call “HORROR”.
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