Full Metal Racket

A look at the film ‘Full Metal Jacket’ directed by Stanley Kubric.

First of all, an apology. OutlawRevue has been a ghost town for some considerable time. Partly due to personal laziness and mad life circumstances, partly down to compulsive video gaming, but some of the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the film ‘Swiss Army Man’; a film that could threaten even the most iron-like fortitude of film enthusiasts.

After a screening of that, I scrubbed for a week under scalding water and still couldn’t get the smell of disappointment out of my skin.

Moving on from that, there’s been a couple of things over the last eighteen months or so that got headlines in the news and made my ears prick up; the French are reintroducing compulsory military service and America continues to suffer shooting sprees in its schools.

Two unrelated bits of news, but both somehow relevant, especially after I finally plucked up the courage to watch ‘Full Metal Jacket’ that had been loaned to me by a friend on what must be ones of histories longest ever borrowing arrangements.

I’m a bit cautious with war films as they can often be a bit dull. I’m especially careful with Vietnam war films because America doesn’t like losing wars and so it tries to make up for this in their films which tend to be overlong, noisy, shouty, shooty affairs with very little worthwhile content.

Depending on whether this is – or if like me, it isn’t – what you like from a film, ‘FMJ’ will bridge the gap… A bit.

There’s still the needless shouting, chanting, singing, marching, shooting and macho-camaraderie bullshit you can expect from any other Vietnam film, but the key difference is that Kubric, occasionally anyway, makes it look rather filmic.

I’m not talking about the polished and brutally graphic type of filmic like in the godawful ‘We Were Soldiers’ thing. I mean “wow, this guy really knows how to structure a shot and a scene” kind of filmic.

Even of the content is enough to send you to your fuse box to yank on the circuit breaker (because it’s probably easier than spending a few extra seconds digging the remote control out from between the sofas), at least the way it is shot will give you some consolation.

This is no real surprise. Kubric is well known for his ability to build thought provoking and visually stunning pictures. ‘The Shining’, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ are three very well-known examples of his work. Each very different, each very well respected pieces of work covering very different topics.

Diversity is a good thing. Without it, Tom Hanks would have been trapped in cheesy 80’s family comedies for his entire life. Fortunately, he broke out of that mould and forged a magical path through his career as an actor. Kubric was never going to be accused of being repetitive so one can only assume that ‘FMJ’ was a project he really wanted to undertake.

Maybe he wanted the challenge, maybe he thought there was something to be said with the material that was being presented to him, or maybe he was just bored and fancied getting out the house for a while to make something. Whatever his motives were, I’m not sure that it is enough to justify having Kubric in the driving seat.

It’s like contracting a musical genius, someone with the calibre of Ludovico Einaudi, to do a special anniversary remix of ‘Barbie Girl’ or ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. The execution may be flawless but the source material isn’t good enough to begin with.

So why? Why Kubric? Why this?

There’s a moment of interest in the early stages when all the new recruits are going through training. They are asked about two people; one of them, a nutter who went up a tower and started shooting pedestrians indiscriminately, and another, a presidential assassin. What did they have in common? They were both trained rifleman from the US Marines.

Given the worlds reaction whenever some nutter goes on a shooting spree in a public area, it got me wondering about war-machines. I don’t want to get into lengthy discussions about rights to bear arms or gun controls because it is too big a thing to be handled on a little blog like mine. But for a film to boast so passionately that a countries military had bred two notorious murderers, seemed a bit off.

Their shooting skill may have been impressive, but their actions were deplorable. Were they unhinged before they were trained to shoot guns or did the military break them? ‘FMJ’ appears to indicate that monsters are made, that ordinary people are pushed to breaking point and then pushed into warzones to kill and be killed.

Yet real life events are more commonly being carried out by younger civilians. Teenagers, barely out of school – if not still in it – armed to the teeth and no military conditioning of any kind.

Many will joke that the reintroduction of National Service in France will involve months of training on how to run away and have extensive classes on how to most effectively wave a white flag. Personally, I think it should be voluntary and not compulsory, but I can see that there will be some who will benefit from it. Jokes aside, France is a relatively sensible country and I think they’ll make it work.

But if France can do it, it will set a precedent and other countries will follow suit. And what if America decides to do it?

I have a great respect for our American friends, but I do also think they’re batshit crazy. And I think that enforcing military training upon them as a compulsory national service would really help to accelerate the number of testosterone fuelled, “my killing spree was bigger than your killing spree” rampages.

If the unhinged ones are bad now, wait until they’ve been called “worthless maggot” by a drill instructor for months on end.

But I digress, mainly because musing over such topics beats having to admit that I spent the best part of six-months building up the courage to watch a film I thought I was going to dislike and then hating it far more than I thought I could.

It tried to do characterisation. I appreciate the small effort, but it wasn’t enough. Nobody was worth caring about and nobody invoked a reaction when they were inevitably shot and killed in battle.

The dialogue was almost as painful as bashing your teeth out with a hedgehog and the first part of the film with the training camp was as excruciating as being fed feet-first into a woodchipper while listening to a Sandy Toksvig audio book.

There’s no proper original soundtrack to enjoy, just a mixture of occasionally inappropriate period songs. There’s no real point to reach and they even try to give it a sort of ‘moral victory’ tone at the end. It’s not nice to be reminded that as a country, you wasted a lot of lives, effort and money on a war that you didn’t win… Here’s an idea; stop making films about it!

I’d say that Coppolla did a better job with ‘Apocalypse Now’. He may not be quite so artsy but his Vietnam went deeper and had genuine originality.

Still, I guess I can’t complain about ‘FMJ’ too much. It still shines like a brilliant beacon of cinematic entertainment when compared to ‘Swiss Army Man’.

A reason why you should watch it: You’re a big fan of hideous dialogue and carbon-copy Vietnam action scenes with a facade of Kubric classiness.

A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Scratch off the very thin and flimsy facade and it’s just another Vietnam movie with nothing new or noteworthy.



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