R. Lee Ermey
That said, none of these films, except maybe PLATOON could measure up to Kubrick’s masterpiece. Even though the subject was familiar, Kubrick’s approach was not, with him for the first time really giving audiences a look at the dehumanizing effect of boot camp. While Modine’s Joker is the main character, the first (better) half of FULL METAL JACKET is all about Ermey’s brutal drill sergeant- a malevolent force of nature similar to other Kubrick characters like Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or Jack in THE SHINING. His effect on a young, overweight soldier- who he dubs Gomer Pyle turns this presumably sweet-natured young man into a psychotic killer- which is maybe what Ermey’s character had been trying to do all along- although it backfires on him terribly in a startling scene that ends the first half.
D’Onofrio, who gained eighty pounds for the role, stands out- and truthfully, the film suffers (a bit) from his and Ermey’s absence from the second half. Even still, the Saigon part of the film is different in that it focuses on the urban warfare part of the war, with the grunts holing up in the burnt out buildings of Saigon- interacting with the local prostitutes (giving us the famous “me love you long time” line) and finding that death lurks around every corner. Other Nam epics usually took place in the jungle. Long-time Kubrick fan Steven Spielberg even borrowed the climatic sniper attack for his own war epic, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
Compared to most of Kubrick’s other films, which were epic in scale and length, FULL METAL JACKET is also a comparatively lean film- running just under two hours. But- like his other films, the imagery is startling, and the use of music incendiary. Who could forget the end credits- set to “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones? Or “Surfin’ Bird”? Incredible.
New to this 25th anniversary set is a documentary called Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes which is an examination of the thousands of boxes of research Kubrick left around his estate. At only an hour, it feels rushed, and most frustratingly, it mentions eighteen full hours of b-roll shot on the set of FMJ by Viviane Kubrick, although we only see about 5 min worth (what we do see is fascinating- with Kubrick seeming far more gregarious than you’d think).