Full Metal Jacket (1987)


A riotous wartime drama. Follows the journey of fresh recruits from boot camp to the trauma inducing frontline of the Vietnam war.

Beware the following will contain plot detail.

The Vietnam war, not the easiest topic to cover for a film, and for any story writer, one that requires almost as much thought as foreign intervention before getting involved. Not being a war history junkie, I don’t recall exactly what led me to watch this, though through the grapevine I’d known it was highly regarded. Plus it has an interesting title.

Part one is all about the boot camp. Here we’re introduced to the new faces hoping to join the front lines or to quote their drill instructor Hartman (Emery), the “lowest form of life on Earth”. They take a punishing through the rounds of obstacle courses, training and rigor that comes with military procedure. One of the them, Pyle (D’Onofrio) is particularly victimised as others bully him due to his size causing him to descend into psychological madness. From this manmade hellhole, they’re deployed into another that is the war where Joker (Modine), now a military journalist, reports on the conflict. He ends up reuniting with the infantry he formerly trained with but this is a million miles away from a fairy-tale reunion as firstly, they’re being shot at but also because he’s mocked for having never been in combat.

There are a few shocking depictions of the realities of war and one comparison is Saving Private Ryan, although Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) came before it. What’s harder to describe is how jaw achingly funny the first half can be as it is ingrained with the hardship the recruits go through. The barrage of insults spat out by the drill instructor is seriously entertaining and it derives so many of the quotes that make FMJ so well liked. For some reason, unless I’m reminded of it in conversation, FMJ still manages to slip out of my recommendation list. Mostly because it’s not suitable for all tastes, just like the apt, unofficial motto which I would say sums it up: ‘go hard or go home’.


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