Nine Weeks of Kubrick, Week Seven – Andy Burns on Full Metal Jacket

After a week’s break to check out some in-theatre film adventure, I’m back at it with the seventh instalment in the Nine Weeks of Kubrick series I’ve been working on. One of the reasons I’m glad that I set this up is, apart from last week’s brief intermission, knowing I’ve committed to writing about the films contained in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection means I can’t just let them sit there. It also means I can see how Kubrick utilized his talents and style in all of his pictures in a fairly condensed viewing period, giving me a serious appreciation for just how brilliant a director he was. That being said, this week’s offering is what’s considered to be one of the defining war films of all time. In the hands of the master, how could it not be?


What the film is about: Released in 1987, Full Metal Jacket was a unique take on the Viet Nam war, split into two halves. The first half focuses on training for newly recruited Marines by a hard case drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey), the confident Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and the seemingly hopeless Private Pyle (Vincent D’onofrio). The second half takes us into battle, but unlike every other Viet Nam film, which are typically set in the jungle, Full Metal Jacket focuses on the urban warfare the Marines face while in combat.

What I liked about Full Metal Jacket: Once again, Stanley Kubrick didn’t just make a genre film, he made thee defining genre film. Full Metal Jacket is truly the story of the creation of soldiers, from their beginnings in training to who they are once entrenched against the enemy. For years, one of my favourite films has been Apocalypse Now, the classic Viet Nam movie about a man travelling up river to kill an insane colonel. While both it and Full Metal Jacket are set during the same war, both are severely different pictures. I look at Apocalypse Now as more of a cinematic trip and experience, whereas there are times during the second half of Full Metal Jacket that feel as though you’re watching a documentary, especially with the sounds of running soldiers and the camera work that follows them into battle. Two different takes on the same subject; two brilliant films.

The performances in Full Metal Jacket are nothing short of fantastic from all involved. As Joker, Matthew Modine gives us a character we can latch on to, a kind soul who seems to excel as a soldier, though he clearly is ambivalent about it. Vincent D’onofrio is riveting and frightening as Pyle, a would- be soldier taken to the edge, while R. Lee Ermey totally embodies his character, which makes sense, seeing as he was a Viet Nam drill sergeant off screen first. There’s not a bad actor in the entire cast.

What I didn’t like about the film: Much like Lolita, there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about Full Metal Jacket. From cast to script, scenery to length, it’s another perfect Kubrick film.

Should you watch Full Metal Jacket: Whether you love war films or not, I can honestly say that Full Metal Jacket is a film worth every movie lover’s time. At less than two hours long, Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s shortest film, and he doesn’t waste a minute. Besides it’s technical brilliance and the stellar performances, Full Metal Jacket has taken on a timely and timeless quality. While it takes place in Viet Nam from 40-some years ago, it could just as easily be Iraq of the past decade. Watching the documentary that comes on the Blu-Ray edition of the film, there’s talk by producer Jan Haran of how Full Metal Jacket was somewhat prosaic in nature, based on the world we live in today. It’s hard not to agree with that assessment of what is one of the greatest films in Stanley Kubrick’s amazing cannon.  

Check out the previous Nine Weeks of Kubrick instalments: 

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