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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Apocalypse Now (1979)



Reviews and Comments

How do you assign a rating to a film that is brilliant for most of its running time and an utter mess at the end? I gave it a star for every worthwhile fifth of the movie, but never mind the rating.

Few films have contributed so many different images and scenes to the lexicon of pop culture. You don't have to have seen Apocalypse Now to recognize the line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." If you have seen it, you aren't likely to forget the helicopter attack, wherein Ride of the Valkyries is punctuated by explosions, and the whole affair comes across more as a recreational activity than a battle in a war.

I am not deeply appreciative of the message of this film, which, like so many other war films of the period (and since) simplify war into madness and officers into maniacs. Anti-war films would carry so much more weight if they actually understood why wars happen and why, as with World War II, sometimes they're actually necessary.

But the audaciousness of the film, and the psychological portrait it paints, cannot be denied. In a real sense, Apocalypse Now isn't even about war in the first place. The Vietnam War is used as an external reflection of the main character's gradual descent into the maddest reaches of the human condition. The movie has changed the setting of its inspiration (Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) but not its essence.

The movie travels this road a little too far. Shortly after Marlon Brando shows up, it has penetrated so deeply into madness that the narrative itself unravels, and it loses us. Chaos does, after all, destroy itself.