Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier
I write film and TV reviews at DVDFanatic.com. Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.
Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is one of my favorite novels. The story of a man sent into the wilds of Africa to bring back a rogue trader who has set himself up as a god among the native tribes is an undisputed literary classic. That writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Trilogy) thought to adapt the book into a Vietnam setting that allowed him a canvas broad and deep enough to comment on war, the human condition and everything in between was no less a stroke of artistic brilliance.
If there is a film that better exemplifies the tug-of-war between art and commerce than Apocalypse Now, I haven’t seen it. So devastating was this conflict that Coppola admits to having gone slowly mad during it’s production and blames both the quality and quantity of his work since then on his apocalyptic meltdown.
As a gung-ho war film, Apocalypse Now very nearly fails. As an odyssey into the subterranean abyss of man’s primal nature, it is impenetrable. And yet, when these two elements are merged, a coherent, if inscrutable, masterwork is born.
Which isn’t to say that it is flawless. While the film has some of the greatest moments ever committed to celluloid and wraps up one of America’s most prolific and artistic decades in film, it also has some of the most pretentious and confusing. The first two thirds of the film, in which we follow Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his boatmates down river to kill a renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is a gripping descent into madness. The latter part of the film, in which Kurtz takes center stage and madness is all there is, degenerates into a psychedelic, surreal exploration of man’s interior madness.
Perhaps the reason it works so well, despite its incomprehensibility, is that the war it was representing was incomprehensible. No other movie about this country’s devastating part in Southeast Asia more perfectly captures the dysfunction, moral drift and hollow madness of what is still this nation’s deepest and most festering psychic wound. Grimly nihilistic in tone, Apocalypse Now retains the power to captivate and disturb some three decades later.
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