Full Metal Jacket

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Full Metal Jacket has a lot of good things in it, but unfortunately they don’t add up to a good movie. I know this movie gets a lot of love, but honestly, I don’t see it. Sure, the beginning is pretty hilarious if you like over the top profanity, but the second half is just dull, and the whole things ends up being pretty pointless. Though technically it’s interesting, the story leaves something to be desired.

The film follows Private “Joker” (Matthew Modine) through basic training and into the Vietnam War. The first and superior half of the film is focused on a battle of wills between the overweight and hopelessly incompetent “Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Sergeant Hartman (R Lee Ermey). We witness the marines being stripped of their individuality and taught to kill at the expense of all else. After the conflict between Hartman and Pyle reaches an explosive climax, we see Joker shipped off to Vietnam as a journalist. He follows around a platoon, which meanders aimlessly through the war, until being caught in sniper fire towards the end.

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The first half of the film is not the most riveting thing you’ll ever see, but it is pretty entertaining. As a fan of creative profanity, I enjoy it quite a bit even though it is pretty offensive and not everyone will have a good time watching it. The discipline Hartman imposes on the men is pretty harsh, but of course this is the marines so it’s to be expected. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for these characters against Hartman, because Kubrick has a hard time creating fully human characters. They almost always seem like robots and, besides Hartman and Pyle to a lesser extent, this film is no different. It seems like he’s trying to make an anti-war statement about how war takes away one’s humanity and leaves only man’s animal nature behind, but it’s hard to really feel that because the characters are all so robotic throughout. This type of acting/characterization is not always a problem; it’s extremely effective in both Barry Lyndon and 2001, but here not so much.

The second half of the film is a strange mix of your standard war film and a Kubrick picture. On one hand, he employs slow motion and zooms, involving us in the action a bit more. He tries to abandon the rigid compositions that he used in the first half, but doesn’t quite manage it. There are a lot of testimonials that are very staged, which works in the film, but also doesn’t in a way. He walks a fine line between involving us in the action a bit more realistically and distancing us from it with the camera work. The camera still moves with the actors, and tries to get in there, but is still very fluid. It’s strange because you can’t really figure out how to orient yourself to the characters. So after that, you just sort of loose interest because the acting/characters don’t pull you in at all.

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The whole film is supposed to be about the duality of man, which is explicitly stated by Joker in the film itself. Not only is this lazy storytelling, but it wraps up a very complicated issue into one line, making the rest of the film irrelevant in a way. The whole film’s structure, as well as many other symbols in the film, already illustrates this. It’s somewhat irrational how much this one line upsets me, but it upsets me a lot. Kubrick breaks a lot of normal rules of storytelling, and usually he can get away with it, but in the second half of this movie it doesn’t quite work out.

So Full Metal Jacket is far from my favorite movie, but there are a lot of redeeming qualities. The camerawork is pretty interesting, the first half is entertaining, but it doesn’t really lead much of anywhere. There are a lot of good lines and moments, especially in the first part, but the second half is really boring and unfocused. Kubrick’s already done a great war film, so see that one.

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“Because Marines don’t have permission to die!”

Long story short: 2.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Roger Ebert review 

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11 responses to “Full Metal Jacket

  1. Good review. One of the better anti-war films. Which is why I’m always annoyed when people are constantly including it lists for the perfect war movies to watch on Veterans Day.

    • Thanks! I’m really not a fan of this film but I appreciate that it has a lot of fans. That is strange; the film doesn’t have one single positive thing to say about war.

  2. Indeed, this is an empty film. How many Kubrick films have the strong character development that allows the viewer to “feel” for them? Nil. But somehow, you still cannot tear your eyes away from what you are seeing. R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio are outstanding in the first half…….but you don’t like them one bit.
    I love this film…………why? Kubrick!

    • It’s true that Kubrick often doesn’t create characters that are meant to be identified with in any way, but in a film that’s arguing that war dehumanizes people, it would be helpful to start with some people.
      Kubrick’s style is in place as always, but it’s just not enough to give meaning to this film.

  3. I didn’t really connect to any of the characters in this one and don’t feel as strongly about it as I do about many other Kubrick films, but I still think it’s a very interesting film. Great cinematography and some interesting disturbingness. I think the point of the film is to show that there wasn’t really a point in the Vietnam war, which is why it may seem a little… pointless?
    -Mette

    • The cinematography is interesting as always and there are several impressive shots, however, they’re not enough to carry the movie unfortunately. Kubrick wants to make points along those lines, but he writes them into the film instead of letting us discover them which is disappointing.
      Thanks for commenting!

  4. While I agree the first half is the stronger part of the film, I think the second hour really holds up on its own. It’s very much like if Dr. Strangelove met Paths of Glory, and that ending is very haunting. Nice review.

    • I’m still not a fan of the second part. It’s taken me a lot of tries to get through this film and review it and the second part is always tough to get through, just because it’s so boring. Dr Strangelove and Paths of Glory are both significantly better than this film in my opinion.

  5. Yeah, I actually love the sniper scene where Eightball is shot in the leg and screaming in agony……..the harrowing save-him/go-out-there-and-die of it all is so compelling! That screeching metallic soundtrack adds to the hopeless tension of the scene. To think that scene was filmed in an abandoned quarry in London is amazing.
    I love the banter between “Joker” and “Animal Mother”…….the John Wayne “You talk the talk…….but can you walk the walk” (I think).
    The second half is a bit sparse in “great” stuff” but it is all still very cool!

  6. Pingback: Thanksgiving Special – THANK YOU for your support! |·

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