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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 7.79%
Average: 3.25%
Pretty Bad: 2.6%
Total Crap: 6.49%

4 reviews, 130 user ratings

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Apocalypse Now
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by Rob Gonsalves

"This is the end."
5 stars

The true hero of Francis Ford Coppola's backbreaking "Apocalypse Now," if there is one, might be Chef, the harried saucier and whacked-out soldier played by Frederic Forrest.

Chef is about the only guy in the movie who has a relatable past and who looks to the future. He reacts to the madness of Vietnam, and to the inscrutability of the particular mission he's part of, like most of us would. Chef eventually becomes the default partner of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), whose assignment is to find and kill ("terminate with extreme prejudice") one Walter E. Kurtz, a colonel who went crazy and went native, forming his own Montagnard army out in the darkness of the jungle.

Apocalypse Now, which shared the 1979 Palme d'Or with The Tin Drum, is an epic freak-out, a fever dream of immense proportions. The making of it famously almost killed Coppola, and it could be argued that his filmmaking afterwards never felt quite as vital or as organic. Vietnam, or the Vietnam he recreated, burned him out as surely as it did Willard and Kurtz. As the excellent documentary Hearts of Darkness showed, Coppola began the journey as Willard and ended as Kurtz, and one can sense that in the film itself, which seems to shift allegiance from Willard to Kurtz. When we finally meet Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a great bald shambling mountain usually in shadow, he both does and doesn't seem to be the monster we've been waiting for. Unlike the Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which provided the movie's structure and throughline, this Kurtz doesn't become a savage in proximity with other savages. Vietnam has made him a savage. And he's bitterly, even ironically aware of this.

Willard receives his orders over a crunchy lunch of roast beef and shrimp, while an amusingly nervous Harrison Ford plays a tape of Kurtz's voice. Coppola moves in for a close-up of the shrimp, as if Kurtz's musings on a snail crawling across a straight razor were issuing forth from the dead crustacean. As the general who puts the hit out on Kurtz, G.D. Spradlin carries effortless authority when he intones "Every man has a breaking point. You and I have them. Walt Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously he has gone insane." Before that, though, Spradlin has a great little moment when, describing the pre-breakdown Kurtz as "a man of wit and humor," he smiles to himself as if remembering something hilarious Kurtz did or said, something made tragic now because that Kurtz is gone. Also, I always wonder who the strange-looking dude in civvies is, the one whose sole contribution to the chat is "Terminate with extreme prejudice."

Needing to get back in the shit, Willard takes the mission and finds himself in a PBR among a motley crew, including the aforementioned Chef, a kid from the projects nicknamed Mr. Clean (Laurence Fishburne, ridiculously young and wiry), and the boat's grim-faced captain Chief (Albert Hall). Most of them are kids, though it's worth noting that Sheen, despite his weathered voice (reading Michael Herr's narration) and gravitas, was only 36 when filming started, and Frederic Forrest was four years his senior. Nobody on the boat really understands the mission, least of all Willard himself, who keeps squinting at Kurtz's dossier and marveling at what a model soldier he was. Perhaps Kurtz hasn't gone rogue; perhaps he has simply achieved military apotheosis, carrying out the logical extension of the armed forces.

The centerpiece of the movie, of course, is the segment dealing with Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), leader of the Air Cav helicopter division that will escort Willard and his boat and crew through a particularly hairy part of the river. Kilgore is a near-cartoonish hawk who lives and breathes war and is also an avid surfer this section of the film is pure John Milius, who wrote the screenplay with Coppola. At first, Kilgore isn't very gung-ho about helping Willard out (the order got lost in communication, or at least Kilgore pretends it did), but when he hears that the village's surf has "a fantastic peak," he's all over it. Essentially, Kilgore and his men rip the shit out of the village and napalm it so that a star surfer traveling with Willard, the California boy Lance (Sam Bottoms), can strut his stuff.

Coppola clearly finds this horrifyingly absurd it's probably the film's most vivid instance of Strangelove-esque satire. Yet somehow Coppola finds it in himself to turn the episode into one of the greatest combat sequences ever filmed. We feel horror at the wanton taking of life, yes, but we also feel exhilaration. For a few minutes, we enter Kilgore's universe Milius' universe where war is a cascading orgasm of glory. It doesn't hurt that Coppola recruits Wagner's ferocious "Ride of the Valkyries," used as iconically here as "Thus Spake Zarathustra" was in 2001. Even here, though, we get glimpses of Coppola peeking through Milius' bluster: the soldier who refuses to get off the helicopter ("I'm not going! I'm not going!"); another soldier wounded and screaming, loaded into a med chopper that falls victim to a VC girl with a hidden grenade. Kilgore's rhetoric soon changes from "Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding. Getcha a case of beer for that one" to "I want my men out of there. I want them out." The sequence ends, legendarily, with Kilgore's "napalm" soliloquy, delivered by Duvall as if he were reflecting on a childhood memory of Christmas. "Someday this war's gonna end," he finishes, sounding saddened, understanding all too well the trouble men like Willard encounter once war has ended for them.

After this, the movie returns to its rambling riverboat episodic structure, though there are still many pleasures. A highlight is the scene at the Do Lung Bridge, where Lance drops acid and the eternal confusion of war is summed up by that great exchange: "Who's the commanding officer here?" "Ain't you?" It's here that Carmine Coppola's foreboding score gets utterly weird, a cross between carnival music and the exertions of a monster movie which describes this movie's Vietnam as well as anything else.

At long last, Willard finds Kurtz, holed up along with a coke-addled Dennis Hopper and an unrecognizable Scott Glenn. It's as if Kurtz's mania were contagious, infecting any rational men who enter his lair. Marlon Brando mumbles in the shadows, delivering hipster rants about atrocities, while Martin Sheen listens silently, long since resigned to the fact that he's never really been the center of this movie. Willard is a cipher, a burned-out husk who's seen too much death to be at peace. (The 2001 Redux version, which I own but can't bring myself to watch, apparently adds a little more shading to Willard.) This loud epic dark fantasia ends on a rather elliptical note, which seems the only way for it to end. It begins, in fact, with an end the Doors' "The End" and concludes the same way, in a humid room that bears witness to bloodshed. Willard begins by punching a mirror and ends by destroying another mirror image of himself.

Apocalypse Now is a confounding mix of the conventional and the surreal, a man-on-a-mission war flick that expands into a meditation on The Warrior, complete with recitations from "The Hollow Men." Interestingly, the last words we hear (aside from a reiteration of Kurtz's "The horror") are "PBR Street Gang, this is Almighty" even God can't impose himself in the jungle, where men kill each other for reasons no more or less insane than the reasons Kurtz has scattered heads and other body parts around his compound like so much trash. There is greatness in Apocalypse Now, but there is also madness, and they feed off each other. Coppola flew, Icarus-like, too close to the heat of a certain truth about man and nature, and it burned him, badly. Brando alone seems untouched by it, floating imperiously above moral concerns. Kurtz is the Almighty here, although we see that the real force is the jungle itself.

People didn't really know what to make of "Apocalypse Now" at the time; it had been hyped and heralded for so long prior to its release that it must've come as an anticlimactic disappointment. Thirty years on, it looks painfully rich and relevant and wise, willing to face the heart of darkness straight on, an acid flashback to a time when America and the world seemed "lost in a Roman wilderness of pain/And all the children are insane."

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originally posted: 07/05/09 11:37:37
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User Comments

11/10/19 Carl Bruun Warning: This reviewer is a pseudo intellectual. 5 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell my favorite war film of all time surreal & sublime 5 stars
7/13/15 stanley welles a paradox of beauty and horror 5 stars
5/31/13 AJzz Those who don't like it are too simple-minded to understand this masterpiece. 5 stars
12/12/11 Chris Yes, Mr. Muskewitz, but what is your one against so mmny! 5 stars
11/12/11 R.W. Welch Ingenious update of Conrad's Heart of Darkness with top grade writing and cinematography. 5 stars
11/22/10 Quigley Overrated, but occassionally masterful. Not the greatest war film, but it gets to you. 4 stars
4/25/10 gordon Purcell Haunting and disturbing--very memorable! 5 stars
4/19/10 Dave IMO, Mr.Muskewitz has missed the whole point of the film. I need more space to explain why. 5 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Good surreal Vietnam flick. 4 stars
9/25/09 Akemi Gardiner One of the best war movies out there. 5 stars
8/10/09 Jeff Wilder The best film to show how war is a soul killer. 5 stars
7/07/09 Benny Lava Outstanding piece of cinema, a favorite I try to see once a year. 5 stars
7/05/09 Luke Astonishing 5 stars
1/27/08 Pamela White fantastic war flick 4 stars
10/13/07 Pat Cavo Finnegan It's a must see classic film for so many reasons. Defo N.B. 2c it 5 stars
1/10/07 David Pollastrini best viewed while stoned 4 stars
7/31/06 Daveman Too long and pretentious. Two impressive sequences do not a good three hour film make. 2 stars
7/22/06 James Furrh This reviewer is a fool. He fails to note all prized aspects of the film. Coppola? A hack? 5 stars
7/19/06 Tyson Samson This guy is a fucking retard...This movie is simply amazing! 5 stars
4/03/06 Shawn Mcknight best war movie ever made !!!!! 5 stars
2/23/06 Marlon Brando The film is exciting. The film ends unsolved but I dig it. "The horror...The horror..." 5 stars
2/10/06 Tristan Gray It lessens my faith in my fellow man to see people dislike this film. 5 stars
1/25/06 paul fisher seen film 5 or 6 times; just about perfect. 5 stars
11/18/05 John Dog Best Vietnam movie! 5 stars
10/16/05 Ryndon Bull Shit 1 stars
10/07/05 Johnny A Vietnam classic. 5 stars
8/07/05 Movielover Anybody who hates this movie is an idiot!!! Anybody who hates this movie is an idiot!!!! 5 stars
8/06/05 Pierre Apocalypse Now Redux is longer -- and better. 2 stars
5/25/05 Jake The Greatest Vietnam war movie ever made! 5 stars
4/29/05 ThroneofBlood My favorite film, hypnotic and visonairy. 5 stars
2/12/05 ALDO too much nonsense....feel asleep zzzz...zzzz 1 stars
1/24/05 Arun Moving, Poignant, but could use some a tighter structure 4 stars
12/08/04 Tony Best Vietnam movie, without a doubt. 5 stars
12/07/04 Kurt Cobain Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam Masterpiece 5 stars
11/16/04 Zel ? Like Full Metal Jacket, it started good but dragged on with boring nonsense 3 stars
11/06/04 Tony Huinker This wannabe reviewer wants attention, uses many cliches,and shames one of great moviesever 5 stars
10/26/04 travis b this film is def in my top 5 of all is truly amazing. 5 stars
7/26/04 gareth This film is vastly overated. All below should shoot themselves in the head 1 stars
5/20/04 Fernando can't think of anything that can top this one....reality cinema....the best 5 stars
3/01/04 Daveman A crappy final act is forgivable in such a great film. The air attack is unforgettable. 5 stars
2/01/04 I Would Flawed, but has enough powerful moments to rival Deer Hunter as the best 'nam war film. 5 stars
1/28/04 Elena Has one of the top five BEST endings in film of all time. Breathtaking. 5 stars
1/12/04 Walter Kurtz One of hollywoods best films! 5 stars
11/21/03 homer simpson one hell of a ride with an awesome cast 5 stars
10/31/03 Coppola Fan makes it different from other war movies, like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. 5 stars
10/08/03 Lesterwink23 The most haunting and important war film ever made. 5 stars
10/04/03 Nasty_Gnorc An intense war movie indeed. 5 stars
6/26/03 cochese O-V-E-R-A-T-E-D 3 stars
6/26/03 J Amazing! I loved to watch war movies in the morning 5 stars
5/22/03 Biff Boffo A tad anti-climactic. Flight of the Valkyries chopper scene, however, is simply epic!!! 4 stars
5/12/03 Jack Bourbon As good as movie as Brando's ass is big. I didn't care for Redux, either. 5 stars
4/22/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik See THIS version. 5 stars
11/27/02 Zack W. Young Brilliant, spectacular, the only film that ever needed to be made. 5 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Possibly Coppola's last really great film 5 stars
10/04/02 The Man in Top 3 all time movies, dont bother with Redux 5 stars
10/01/02 a big metal pimple For christ-assfucking-greg sake! The movie is NOT about war 5 stars
5/28/02 Phoenix One of the truly great war films of our time. 5 stars
5/20/02 F@rty Bl@st Rockin' good news! 5 stars
5/16/02 Monster W. Kung Hey Muskewitz are you a freaking moron? Yes you are. 5 stars
5/14/02 catherine dumas I thought it was an intense film. The atmosphere was just right for this sort of film! 4 stars
3/13/02 Colin Brunton Im fuckin gay and i love me this movie. Give me gregs number so i can fuck him in the ass 5 stars
3/13/02 david crazy movie 5 stars
3/05/02 Eduardo Del Valle Best war movie, (probably BEST MOVIE ever done)... Who's Greg M? Go see B Streisand, faggot 5 stars
1/19/02 Magnum Craphole Greg Muskewitz is a fucking idiot. AN is one of the greatest movies of ALL time. 5 stars
12/12/01 slappy jacks FUCK WAR!!! breathtaking amazing really a good war movie FUCK WAR!!! 5 stars
8/31/01 G-Man I love it more and more every time I see it. 5 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat Kick-ass, awesome, tremendous, rockin', cool, action-packed, great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
7/31/01 DMF My all-time favorite film. 5 stars
7/29/01 Monster W. Kung One of the best war movies ever made (waiting to see the redux). 5 stars
7/26/01 Sarge my favourite film 5 stars
6/27/01 Benois Greg, you are disillusioned my friend. read "HOD" 5 stars
6/05/01 Just like a Wop . . . Hey, Greg. Trivialized, pretentious and overdone=Saving Private Damon 5 stars
4/19/01 Rodrigo Merces Yes, it has a surreal look, but couldnt be more realistic, just notice the internal drama. 5 stars
4/10/01 jack mehoff the film was boring and lifeless i would rather watch a cracker go mouldey 2 stars
3/27/01 Jen Shepherd its great in a super-surreal way 4 stars
2/27/01 jack longmire this was the best vietnam war film i have ever seen 5 stars
2/23/01 matt perry an emotional, thought provoking masterpiece 5 stars
2/06/01 Classicdog A masterpiece, great cast, great director. 5 stars
2/02/01 Adam Morgan Absolutely fucking incredible. 5 stars
1/27/01 Axe Murderer Fuck that reviewer greg ...the film kicks ass 5 stars
1/26/01 Marc Andre I hate to be human 5 stars
1/23/01 Brian D-?? The best war film of all time. Shoots for feelings(love the smell of napalm)not ideas. 5 stars
1/02/01 Emily Totally speechless. very good, but Heart of Darkness was better. 4 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla almost made me bang my head against the wall, most intense film next to the Deer Hunter 5 stars
11/18/00 The Bill Head One of the best movies of all time.Best of 79'-Masterpiece with no flaws.2 cerebral my ass 5 stars
11/13/00 The EVIL Penguin better than Saving Private Ryan 5 stars
11/10/00 bruno best war movie ever no dought about it 5 stars
10/29/00 Big Al best of the best of the war movies 5 stars
8/09/00 Henry Incredible Movie, Outstanding Performances by every actor in the movie 5 stars
5/24/00 Matt Anderson save me god 1 stars
5/02/00 master.node Best movie of all time. 5 stars
4/19/00 cv Perfection!!!! 5 stars
4/07/00 Gavin Reynolds One of the best Vietnam war movies so far, this movie's a classic. 5 stars
4/01/00 Bruce dissapointing 3 stars
3/24/00 khek wui, lee The film really sent one's into deep soul searching 5 stars
3/15/00 Mic Not as great as it could've been. 3 stars
1/22/00 Will that was NUTTY. 5 stars
1/09/00 John Markham That mumbling tub of lard,Brando,ruins the whole film. 2 stars
1/04/00 PervertedPixie Its like a metaphor for insanity- and it makes the Godfather look PANTS! 5 stars
12/05/99 Aaron Deeply insane, i love it. It explores the deep rifts in the human psyke, fucking awesome 5 stars
12/04/99 Steve Peet A Fairdinkum Masterpiece 5 stars
12/02/99 Anthony This is a well acted, attention keeping, action filled movie that everyone can enjoy 5 stars
12/02/99 Laqundra Glover It was alright! 4 stars
11/12/99 Tom Mullane It leaves you speechless 5 stars
11/06/99 Luis Luzuriaga " I love the smell of napalm in the smells of victory." awesome opening scene!! 5 stars
11/01/99 Gino Las Vegas Not a film so much as an experience. Mindblowing in the cinema. 5 stars
10/27/99 Glitter Berry "You can't land on a fraction, man!!" Huh? It doesn't matter, it's still great 5 stars
10/20/99 corey singer missing this film means you care little about cinema 5 stars
8/11/99 Japtalian Do you wanna surf or fight? Hand me that damn surfboard sarg!! 5 stars
7/17/99 unstrung one of the most mentally disturbing movies i have ever seen, the only war film that matters 5 stars
7/16/99 Dennis Forcier Expresses the horror of mortality like no other. 5 stars
7/03/99 Jim Preston Powerful stuff. 5 stars
6/25/99 David Keech Screw Oliver Stone and Saving Private Ryna. This is the greatest war film ever. Period. 5 stars
6/14/99 Dylan Classic. 5 stars
5/28/99 pipeman Quite possibly the best movie ever made. If you haven't seen it, rent it tonight. 5 stars
5/02/99 PJ A long and mesmerizing journey into darkness. Charlie don't surf! 5 stars
4/30/99 Rob Mckechnie It's nearly 3 hours long, and i still wanted more. Nuff' said. 5 stars
4/20/99 Lucas jackson You will never find a better vietnam movie,ever I swear 5 stars
4/19/99 jimmy jam Dennis Hopper IS a God. 5 stars
4/13/99 Jon Jackson It's Apocalypse Now for God's sake!!! 5 stars
4/10/99 Keith Calder For some reason I keep falling asleep when I try to watch this movie. Probably my fault. 3 stars
4/04/99 Albert Mostly awesome -- loser ending. 4 stars
3/18/99 Madcap Intense as all Hell,gave me more Nightmares than any horror film 5 stars
1/24/99 donkey_dew Fucking aye. This movie is da bomb. 5 stars
12/06/98 Ryan Meade This film is the definition of 'Fucking Awesome' 5 stars
11/24/98 Vick Di Brecci A great adventure story with an underrated ending 5 stars
11/24/98 Silent Rob Episodic vignettes combined to paint a phantasmagoric portrait of wars many faces. 5 stars
11/23/98 Lord Of The Dunce Words can not describe. 5 stars
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  15-Aug-1979 (R)
  DVD: 15-Aug-2006

  N/A (18)

  02-Feb-1980 (R)

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