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"APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX"
(2001/1979) (Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An army captain finds all sorts of madness as he travels up a Vietnamese river into Cambodia to assassinate a rogue colonel who's broken away from the military.
PLOT:
Captain Willard (MARTIN SHEEN) is U.S. Army intelligence officer who's been stuck in a Saigon motel during the Vietnam War, waiting for his next mission. He gets it when he's assigned to travel up the Mekong River into Cambodia and find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (MARLON BRANDO), a once respected and highly decorated officer who's now gone out of control and apparently out of his mind in creating his own army that reveres him like a god.

Told to terminate Kurtz, Willard gets a ride on a small Navy patrol boat captained by Phillips, the Chief (ALBERT HALL) and crewed by Chef (FREDERIC FORREST), a cook from New Orleans, Clean (LAURENCE FISHBURNE), a 17-year-old from the Bronx, and Lance Johnson (SAM BOTTOMS), a famous surfer from Los Angeles.

As they make their way up the river, they encounter both peril and an odd assortment of characters and situations. That includes Colonel Kilgore (ROBERT DUVALL) and his air mobile fleet of helicopters that make an early morning attack on a Vietnamese coastal village so that some of his men can surf there, a U.S.O. type show featuring Playboy models, and eventually a photojournalist (DENNIS HOPPER) at Kurtz's compound who's completely under the Colonel's hypnotic spell.

With all of the madness they've seen culminating in Kurtz's village, Willard must then decide whether or not to carry out his orders and kill this enigmatic military renegade.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Many years ago, "Saturday Night Live" had a fun sketch where a man was sent by a major movie studio to the Philippines to find a renegade director who was filming a Vietnam War movie there, but had reportedly gotten out of control and was way over budget and schedule.

The director, of course, was Francis Ford Coppola and his film was "Apocalypse Now." The sketch was dead on not only because of the wild rumors that had floated back from the location shoot about the general pandemonium, problems and circus atmosphere that had engulfed the production, but also due to it mirroring the plot of the film about an Army captain sent to Cambodia to find and terminate a renegade colonel who was similarly out of control.

Based on the 1902 novel, "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, Coppola's film hit the big screen in 1979 after three tumultuous years of production - featuring heart attacks, hurricanes and drugs - and was unlike any war film the public had seen up to that point. Now, 22 years later, the director has returned to his work, adding nearly 50 minutes of previously excised footage for the new "Apocalypse Now Redux."

Back when it was first released, the American attitude toward the war was still highly charged. Much of the patriotic endorsement of the military in WWII had been supplanted by skepticism and doubt over our involvement in the conflict, and many of those who were there experienced the madness of conflicting attitudes from the government, military and public.

In both the old and new versions of the film, Coppola - who co-wrote the terrific script with John Milius ("Clear and Present Danger," "Red Dawn") after helming the first two "Godfather" films - captures that madness and confusion in astounding fashion. Beyond all of the material related to Colonel Kurtz and his jungle compound, there are the scenes with Colonel Kilgore - absolutely brilliantly played by Robert Duvall ("A Civil Action," "The Godfather") - the gung-ho officer with quite a distinctive view of the war; Willard's hodgepodge of crewmates who react in differing ways to what's occurring; and all sorts of other moments of madness.

Going for the "war is hell and doesn't make any sense" message, Coppola perfectly leaves that indelible thought in the viewer's head, all without being preachy about it. One is still bound to be exhilarated at one moment by certain bits of incredibly shot footage, and then sickened or disturbed by it or other scenes a few moments later.

As in life and most good movies featuring a protagonist with a goal, it's the journey and not the destination that's important, and that's certainly the case here. With Martin Sheen (TV's "The West Wing," "Wall Street") serving as our outside representative of the operation - despite really being an insider, his dulled/shell-shocked observation of what transpires allows us to see the events through his eyes as if he's witnessing them both for the first and hundredth times-we're taken on an Odyssey like journey through this dangerous and harrowing world.

Although I'm not usually much of a fan of voice over narration - since it's usually a cop-out as far as storytelling is concerned - it's actually highly effective here and Sheen's delivery of some terrific lines of dialogue certainly add to the overall mood.

Beyond Sheen, the rest of the performances are also topnotch, with the various performers creating interesting and memorable characters. Most famous of the bunch is obviously Marlon Brando ("The Godfather," "Superman") who manages to overcome the dreadfully slow pace at the end of the film and creates a complex character that's better defined now thanks to the additional footage.

Dennis Hopper ("EdTV," "Easy Rider") is appropriately cast as a hippie photojournalist, while Albert Hall ("Beloved," "Malcolm X"), Frederic Forrest ("The Rose," "One From the Heart"), Sam Bottoms ("The Last Picture Show," "The Class of 44") and the then 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne ("The Matrix," "What's Love Got To Do With It?") are all terrific in their respective roles as the patrol boat crew.

The film's technical efforts are also first-rate, with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro ("Reds," "The Last Emperor") capturing the best shot war footage up to that time (the "Ride of the Valkyrie" helicopter attack sequence is still one of the best ever put on film) and he won an Oscar for it; the score by the late composer Carmine Coppola ("Tucker: The Man and His Dream," "The Black Stallion") works in establishing just the right mood, and the production and special effects teams create a completely realistic looking picture (partly because no computer or model effects were used).

As far as the additional footage is concerned, some of it adds depth to the story, while other bits only end up adding time to the film's now considerable 3-hour plus length. While there's meaning and purpose to most everything that was added, some of it - notably a long sequence where Willard visits the denizens of a French plantation, they discuss the war, and a French woman seduces him - feels out of place and seems to slow down the third act even more so now.

Had this been my first viewing of the film, such footage might not have felt that way. Yet, by being already familiar with the picture, such moments ultimately feel superfluous. While the ending with Brando does work better with the extra scenes, it's still the film's weakest moment.

Although it may by symbolic of the real war efforts also becoming bogged down in a myriad of philosophical ramblings and ill-defined purpose, the ending's slow and methodical pace - at least until some final action - makes the film feel like it's too long, especially in this new version.

Nevertheless, that's only a mild flaw in what must be considered Coppola's near masterpiece look at the Vietnam War. Incredibly mesmerizing and certainly always interesting, the film - nominated for 8 Academy Awards (and winner of two - Cinematography and Sound) -- may have a few problems, but they're clearly overshadowed by the film's many terrific elements. "Apocalypse Now Redux" rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed August 7, 2001 / Posted August 10, 2001


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