Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Reflecting War’s Reality

Full Metal Jacket is an absolutely incredible film, helmed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick is known for his meticulous attention to detail and his ability to create thought-provoking narratives and this film followed suit. But this felt even more unique in the sense that it feels almost like two distinct movies in one, each presented with starkly different tones and atmospheres.

The first half of the film takes on an almost comedic approach, a contrast with the darker Kubrickian tones. Unclear if this was intentional but either way, it’s an unexpected and captivating choice that keeps you intrigued, setting the stage for a jarring turning point that dramatically alters the psyche of Leonard, nicknamed “Pyle”, played by Vincent D’Onofrio in a remarkable, transformative performance.

Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Private Joker (Matthew Modine), FULL METAL JACKET – Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The film then takes a drastically different and more serious turn in the second half, delving deep into the horrific realities and inherent injustices of the Vietnam War. It’s a potent portrayal, revealing what both sides had to endure and the heart-wrenching choices they were forced to make. The relentless assault on human dignity and sanity is laid bare, exposing the grim underbelly of warfare.

The entire second half is shot incredibly, particularly during some of the more intense action scenes. Kubrick adopts a documentary style-shaky cam technique that pulls you right into the heart of the chaos, making you feel as though you’re right there among the soldiers in the action. The camera work is incredibly immersive, adding to the rawness and authenticity of the narrative.

Actors Matthew Modine and Arliss Howard on the set of “Full Metal Jacket”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The final act of the film was especially a standout moment. The gut-wrenching confrontation with the sniper, teeming with tension and culminating in an extremely poignant outcome that leaves you questioning the nature of humanity. Through characters like Pyle and Joker, played brilliantly by Matthew Modine, we get to see how being an instrument of war molds men into killers, a theme touched upon since the start. The bitter reality of Pyle’s prophetic statement about being in a “world of shit” comes crashing down in that final sequence when we see the outcome and reveal what they are actually fighting and what it turns good men like Joker into.

My only minor gripe is the use of songs in the movie. At times, it felt somewhat disjointed and almost pulled me out of the immersion of the film. Though perhaps this was an intentional move by Kubrick, in an attempt to insert a bit of levity amidst the overwhelmingly serious backdrop of the war.

Private Joker (Matthew Modine), FULL METAL JACKET – Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Despite this minor issue, Full Metal Jacket is an undeniably terrific film. It was a testament to Kubrick’s masterful direction and his ability to create a compelling narrative that pushes boundaries and confronts you with uncomfortable truths. The film remains a potent critique of warfare, a stark exploration of its dehumanizing effects, and a reminder of the atrocities humanity can inflict on itself under the guise of duty and patriotism.