More than any other major American film maker, Stanley Kubrick keeps to his own ways, paying little attention to the fashions of the moment, creating fantastic visions that, in one way and another, are dislocated extensions of the world we know but would prefer not to recognize.
"Full Metal Jacket," Kubrick's harrowing, beautiful and characteristically eccentric film about Vietnam, is going to puzzle, anger and (I hope) fascinate audiences as much as any film he has made to date. The movie will inevitably be compared with Oliver Stone's "Platoon," but its narrative is far less neat and cohesive - and far more antagonistic - than Stone's film.
Like "The Short Timers," Gustav Hasford's spare, manic novel on which it is based, the Kubrick film seems so utterly reasonable that one doesn't initially recognize the lunacies recorded so matter-of-factly. The film is a series of exploding boomerangs. Just when you think you can relax in safety, some crazed image or line or event will swing around to lodge in the brain and scramble the emotions.
"Full Metal Jacket" is divided into two parts, which at first seem so different in tone, look and method that they could have been made by two different directors working with two different cameramen from two different screenplays. Only the actors are the same. Part of the way in which the movie works, and involves the audience, is in its demand that the audience make the sudden leap to the seemingly (but far from) conventional battle scenes in Vietnam, which conclude the film, from its flashily brilliant first half, set in the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) is a machine whose only purpose is to turn the soft young men into killers without conscience. Everything is made subordinate to "the corps," to which end the recruits are humiliated, beaten, exhausted, tricked, lied to, subjected to racial slurs and drilled, constantly drilled, physically and psychologically.
The effect of this part of the film is so devastating that one tends to resist the abrupt cut to Vietnam, where order is disorder and truth is simply a matter of language.
The film's stunning surprise is Ermey, a leathery, ageless, former Marine sergeant in real life. He's so good - so obsessed - that you might think he wrote his own lines, except that much of his dialogue comes directly from Hasford's book. (V. Canby, NY Times)