An all time (anti)War classic and one of Francis Ford Coppola's best, APOCALYPSE NOW is still an amazing, unique film experience.
Martin Sheen stars as Captain Willard, hired by the CIA to track down Colonel Kurtz, a former military genius who has lost his sanity and is operating on his own in the jungle.
Willard (Sheen) is far from stable himself, drinking himself into a violent stupor in the film's opening scenes.
As he begins his journey up river to track down Kurtz, he gathers his team around him. Frederick Forrest is Chef, Sam Bottoms is famous surfer Lance Johnson and 17 year old Lawrence Fishburne is nearly unrecognizable but excellent as "Clean". Willard and boat Chief Phillips (Albert Hall) meet up with the Airborne Battalion on their first rendezvous, where they experience the mad genius of Lt. Bill Kilgore, played to perfection by Robert Duvall.
Coppola's staging of the airborne infantry's attack on a Vietcong village, staged to "The Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner is a modern film classic. "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning" indeed.
Willard's ragtag team heads further north, encountering a USO Show complete with flown in Playboy bunnies, an intense encounter with a Tiger in the jungle canopy and finally the truly mad, psychotic genius of Kurtz, played with legendary eccentricity by Marlon Brando.
The final 30 minutes with Brando, a very high Dennis Hopper, legions of newly painted natives and an ancient native temple is truly mad, but I found it much more entertaining and intelligent than I remembered from earlier viewings.
This was one of the most difficult movies ever made, with the schedule never ending and both Coppola and Sheen suffering heart attacks during the filming. In 1991, a great documentary was produced called "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse". If you love the movie and haven't seen that behind the scenes story of the massive troubles during production, check it out. It's a fascinating companion piece to the movie.
Sheen is fantastic, appearing in almost every scene. He looks like he lived through hell making this movie and it comes out of every pore of him in his best performance.
So many pieces of this film are perfect. The camera work by Vittorio Storaro is amazing, the screenplay by Coppola is some of his best work. It's probably the ONLY film I have ever really thought narration worked in, but here its like another character. Writer Michael Herr wrote the narration separately and it truly adds some classic moments.
Watch closely for a VERY young Harrison Ford as one of the soldiers giving Willard his orders early in the film, Scott Glenn and R. Lee Ermey (the drill sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket") in small roles.
From the opening and closing strains of The Doors "The End" to the Stones "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", the music of the sixties sets the tone, along with an eerie electronic score by Carmine Coppola.
I watched the "Apocalypse Now Redux" version of the film, with 45 extra minutes of footage supervised by Coppola and cut back into the film. Long sequences at a French Plantation deep in the jungle and more leisurely side trips on the boat trip flesh out the journey into madness.
Much of the film is left open for interpretation. How much of the film truly happens and how much is drug fueled hallucinations experienced by Willard?
The farther the boat goes, the more surrealistic the events. Coppola structures the journey so well that the trip is worth taking at every moment.
Coppola had plenty of great film making left in him, but APOCALYPSE NOW was probably his last masterpiece, standing alongside "The Godfather" and "The Godfather II" as the best films of the entire decade.
If you haven't seen it for awhile, join Willard and his team for the mission upriver. It truly is a TRIP.
One of my all-time favorites and an A+.