For those of you who have been living in the isolated reaches of the
Himalayas for the last 22 years, "Apocalypse Now" (IMDb listing) is a loose film adaptation of
Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness." The novel's protagonist is
Marlow, a white man who goes on an expedition into the darkest regions of
the African Congo. On his journey, Marlow meets Kurtz, an opportunistic
ivory-dealing agent who is the embodiment of evil. "Heart of Darkness"
touched upon such subjects as colonialism and racism. The film transfers the
book's setting from the Congo to Southeast Asia, during the controversial
Vietnam War. In "Apocalypse Now: Redux," the newly renovated and extended
version of the original film, the story is the same, yet enhanced to a new
level of cinematic excellence.
U.S. Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is a special operative who works by
himself, specializing in assassination. Willard is called upon by his
superiors to hunt down and eliminate renegade Army officer Colonel Kurtz
(Marlon Brando), who has defected from the American military. As Willard is
briefed about the mysterious Colonel Kurtz, we are treated to a piecing
together of Kurtz' past and present activities. Willard is amazed by Kurtz' background: He was a
highly-decorated Army officer known to take matters into his own hands,
usually with brilliant results. Kurtz' achievements weigh down his dossier,
which is as thick as a telephone book. Further adding to his mystery are a
few shadowy pictures of Kurtz after his defection, and eerie, cryptic
messages recorded from radio transmissions that are purported to be the
ramblings of the mad genius.
Kurtz has finally gone off the deep end and is now commanding a small army of
natives deep in the Vietnamese jungle. Captain Willard's
mission: Travel down the dangerous river, find Kurtz, and murder him.
Aiding Willard along the way is a Navy patrol boat full of personnel: the
hard-nosed, war-weary Chief (Albert Hall), surfer boy Lance B. Johnson (Sam
Bottoms), 17-year old Brooklyn native Clean (Lawrence Fishburne), whose
exposure to the horrors of Vietnam have not quite jaded him yet, and Chef
(Frederic Forrest), the eccentric cook from New Orleans. The crew's mission
is to insert Willard as close as possible to Kurtz' hideout downriver.
Along the way, the boat crew run into myriad challenges that cross their
path, from the megalomaniacal Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who is
obsessed with surfing, to random guerrilla attacks from within the dense
jungle bordering the river.
Expanded into a massive three hours and 20 minutes, "Apocalypse Now: Redux" offers
further insight into how the mind of the assassin Captain Willard operates
during his harrowing journey down the river. The new scenes add fascinating dimensions to Willard's character,
which were lost from the original two-and-a-half-hour cut. Some of these new
scenes include: a run-in with French colonialists who expound upon
the philosophy of the French occupation of Vietnam and American intervention
in the country; a somewhat misogynistic segment with Playboy bunnies trapped
in a far-flung, rained-out Army outpost, and added footage of the
philosophical ruminations of the frightening, yet subdued Colonel Kurtz.
The history of the making of "Apocalypse Now" lives in Hollywood infamy.
Filmed in the Philippines, the troubled production suffered through massive typhoons, a spiraling budget, and
personality conflicts with cast and crew. Yet the end product is an epic motion picture,
celebrated as one of the best war movies in cinematic history. The visuals
will fascinate and haunt you, the performances are classic. Marlon Brando,
although appearing sedated, strikes fear into your heart, as shadows play
across his face and he speaks frankly of his ideological rift from the U.S.
government's military agenda. Martin Sheen's portrayal of Captain Willard is probably the best of his career.
If you actually thought this summer's "Pearl Harbor" was a "good" war movie
(or a good movie, for that matter), then you need to watch "Apocalypse Now: Redux" for a dose of true filmmaking. With remastered sound, visuals, and new
footage that add to this horrible, bizarre, beautiful vision of the
Vietnam "conflict," "Apocalypse Now: Redux" reminds us what good Hollywood
movies used to be: Engrossing, challenging epics.
Filmfodder Grade: A+