The first thing volunteer Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) sees after he lands “somewhere near the Cambodian border” is a heap of body bags. And like that, his innocence is gone. It seems almost natural that later in the film he maniacally forces a one-legged Vietnamese man to “dance” while he fires at his sole foot.
This partly autobiographical account of Stone’s stint is intense. The carnage sneaks up on the men in a way that puts the viewer on absolute edge. The atmosphere is loud and discomforting, the bullets and mosquitoes both flying and humming through the speakers with seemingly identical force.
With a personal touch, Stone details the routine and absolute hell it must have been. More relieving to those who know Stone’s tendencies and trademarks, he doesn’t rely on the sensationalism or agendas he injected in JFK, Natural Born Killers and others. Instead, Stone is composed and direct. The film benefits from this approach. War is epic and hell enough, no need to make a greater spectacle out of it.
And then he sort of does. While Stone sidesteps glamorizing any situation to full shamefulness, there is a particular scene that turns the focus of Platoon elsewhere. The scene sees the extreme and apparently invincible Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) shooting a Vietnamese woman for not divulging where the Viet Cong are hiding. Then he turns the gun to the corpse’s daughter’s head. The moral and leveled Sergeant Elias’ (Willem Dafoe) interference leads to a scuffle, divided troops and eventually a subplot involving court-martial, a mutiny and fragging, a term that describes the killing of an unpopular superior.
Have these things happened? Sure. At least the latter two have occurred as recently as the Iraq War. Still, the whole Barnes/Elias headbutting seems like a forced excuse to land one of them in the fallen, dramatic position that made its way onto Platoon’s most famous poster. Stone must have had a hand in the marketing.
(Of note, the amazing supporting cast includes early turns from John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon, Francesco Quinn, Richard Edson, Keith David, and Johnny Depp.)
Audio commentary by military advisor Dale Dye: Dye (who appears in a brief featurette elsewhere on the disc) goes into his job on the film, its authenticity and much more. Like Stone’s commentary, this track is worth listening to.
Deleted and extended scenes (11:31): There are 10 here (“Chris' First Time,” “Love and Hate,” “Dream Sequence,” “No Regrets,” “When I Get Home,” “Look for a Target,” “Life of the Party,” “This New Guy,” “Later,” “Barnes Lives”), each available with optional Stone commentary.
Flashback to Platoon (48:38): Divided into three parts (“Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968,” “Creating the ‘Nam,” “Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon”), this documentary serves as a strong look at a handful of topics. The first portion focuses primarily on the war and what was happening in the world at the time, while the second goes into the film’s production and the third goes into the film’s impact, with one interviewee calling it “the first film that would help America come to terms with the war.”
One War, Many Stories (25:32): This engaging piece features a number of Vietnam War veterans who, gathered in a room together, reminisce about their personal experiences during the conflict.
Preparing for ‘Nam (6:36): Stone and other veterans discuss their enlisting in the Vietnam War and their experiences in basic training.
Caputo & the 7th Fleet (1:38) has author Philip Caputo (“A Rumor of War”) discussing Saigon.
Dye Training Method (3:23) has military advisor Dale Dye discussing some of his methods he used during Platoon.
Gordon Gekko (1:06): This somewhat out-of-place segment reveals the origins of the Wall Street character’s name.
Television Spots and the Theatrical Trailer round out the special features.