Willard: It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz’s memory any more than being back in Saigon was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine.
F: Yes once.
F: I think this film might be too weird for me. I can’t really get on board with the last half hour at all. But up until that point I’m hooked.
R: It’s a film about madness, the madness of war, and the fragility of the constructions in our heads. As a result it’s fairly inevitable that it’s a bit “weird”! But I agree that the build up to the final act is so well done that when we finally catch up to Kurtz, it’s inevitably – perhaps purposefully – underwhelming.
F: I do think the myth surrounding Kurtz is so strong and I wonder whether we needed to meet him at the end. Personally I think leaving him unseen would have been better but I’m assuming the end scenes are some people’s favourite parts.
R: Might be a bit of a letdown not to see him at all! But I can see what you mean. Personally though I think the ending is one of the big things that elevates this above other Vietnam war films.
F: I found his long, philosophical speeches quite dull though! But I still think this the best Vietnam war film we’ve seen on the list though. Performances are all great in this. Do you have a stand out?
R: Martin Sheen is pretty phenomenal, definitely a class above the performance we saw from his son Charlie in Platoon. I spent a lot of time watching this comparing it with the later Oliver Stone film – that family connection and the fact they both have narrators makes it almost irresistible – and I dont think there can be much argument that this is the subtler, smarter, and ultimately better of the two.
F: Yes I agree this is the best Vietnam war film we’ve seen on the list so far. I also think the score has a lot to do with this film. It’s used very effectively.
R: Gotta love a bit of Wagner. But it isn’t just the famous helicopter scene where the score is brilliant. The Doors stuff is a pretty perfect fit too, all psychedelic and strung out.
F: Yes I’m referring to the whole score though some of the score makes this feel too psychedelic for me. Sometimes I get the feeling this film is trying a bit too hard. I’m not saying it’s not great and arguably a masterpiece but I find it hard not to roll my eyes at times. Have you ever read any of the source material for this?
R: Heart of Darkness is on my want to read list, but no. I wonder if it’s the change of setting that you struggle with here? I can imagine the sense of “other” might make more sense with British nobility in Africa than with US marines in Vietnam.
F: Perhaps. Difficult to know so maybe I should read the book too. Is there anything else’s you’d like to specifically mention what you liked or disliked about this?
R: Perhaps just that I enjoyed this second viewing more than when we saw it the first time a few years ago – and that’s the sign of a real classic.
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: Yes despite my reservations.
R: Yeah it’s got to be.