Apocalypse Now

Bomb Rating: 

The horror. The horror.

It may be but a pittance by modern standards, but back in 1979, $31 million was nothing to sneeze at, especially not when Mr. "I'm Such an Artist," Francis Ford Coppola was at the helm. Perhaps in light of "Jack," it's worth looking back at this sophomoric Vietnam parable and revealing Coppola's masterwork for what it really is: a self-indulgent piece of metaphorical garbage.

For all you war history buffs out there who've culled your knowledge from films like "The Green Berets," "The Deer Hunter" and this film, let's expose some simple Vietname falsehoods: The sun did not set to the East, Russian roulette was not a popular pastime, and hordes of helicopters did not roar over Vietnamese villages blaring Wagner.

So what's Coppola trying to do to you in this film? Who knows? Captain Willard's (Martin Sheen) journey to find the elusive and supposedly insane Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) takes him upriver into Cambodia. On his way, he meets the nutty Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and gets to watch his shipmates -- Chef (Frederic Forrest), Lance (Sam Bottoms), Clean (Laurence Fishburne) and Chief (Albert Hall) -- lose their marbles. When he finally finds Kurtz, he runs into a photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) who's also become squirrel bait.

Based on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Coppola's incisive conclusion about the Vietnam War was that everybody was driven nuts by the voices in their head, which sounds like a thesis you'd glean from one of those New Yorkers who walks the street talking to aliens. It's easy to see how Francis got high on his own genius as he hacked down volumes of historical analysis into a few words: It was a war between the Americans and their evil side. I'm sure the Vietnamese will be glad to hear that they were able to help us work through our little case of national schizophrenia.

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