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Review: Apocalypse Now

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To mark 40 years since the infamous film Apocalypse Now was released, another cut of the film is released in cinemas in an attempt to better reflect Francis Ford Coppolla’s vision. 3 hours long, Apocalypse Now is a gruelling epic set in the middle of the Vietnam War, following Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a mission to find and kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The story of the film is almost as interesting as the story of how the film was made. Beset by drug-induced actors, overbearing heat and constant struggles, half the joy of watching the film is wondering how this could have been made with even the best circumstances.

Watched from the distance of 2019, when the atrocities of Vietnam have been laid-bare there is still the shock factor of watching a beach raided by the US Army while bystanders flee. Touted as one of the best films ever made, the film hasn’t aged a day – though an additional scene of a dinner table conversation does rob the film of its subtlety adding a clear moral in its stead. Enjoyed on the big screen in a higher resolution with a clearer audio keeps you in the moment from the thundering helicopters to the still waters.

As a first-time viewer, it is a joy to see some of the most-quoted lines in cinema get their day on the big screen – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!” – as well as the weirder and more surreal sections of the film. Satirically slick, Apocalypse Now is also bitingly vicious, murder and blood are everywhere and hanging men adorn backgrounds like Christmas decorations; underscoring the pointlessness of the war and the deaths of the Vietnamese and US soldiers alike.

After 40 years it is a wonder to see this film as a cornerstone not just in cinema but in the careers of Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and Albert Hall. The quartet round out the crew of a small boat Captain Willard uses to follow the river up through Vietnam into Cambodia where Colonel Kurtz has hidden away. Willard prepares for his mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz by reading through his briefing notes throughout the film; constantly building Colonel Kurtz up to be a monolith of a man, it’s a relief when he appears that he lives up to his gory reputation.

Apocalypse Now is still a behemoth of a film. The war and the struggles of the soldiers is captured in bloody detail, the lack of CGI adds more weight to the violence, though the scene of a Buffalo being sacrificed remains – which caused an outcry from PETA at the time. Living up to the reputation it has built over the years, it is worth seeing this film in the cinemas; even if I did have to get some dessert to cheer myself up afterwards.

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