Release Date: September 18, 2000
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Actors: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Forest Whitaker
Directors: Oliver Stone
Runtime: 120 minutes
Charlie Sheen gives his best performance to date, enduring a series of increasingly large-scale and bloody battles which retrospectively make one wonder why Saving Private Ryan was hailed as so new. Against this gruelling verity the film falters over the symbolic conflict between good and evil sergeants played by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Even though this was also based in real life, it strikes a too conventionally Hollywood-like note in a film which otherwise maintains much of the raw power of Stone's other film from 1986, Salvador. Johnny Depp fans should look out for an early appearance by the star. Stone would return to Vietnam with the more sophisticated Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth (1993).
On the DVD: The 50-minute documentary "Tour of the Inferno" goes beyond the usual "making-of" to present a personal account both of the film and of Stone's own time in Vietnam. Likewise the two audio commentaries--one by Stone, the other by Captain Dale Dye, fellow veteran and military technical advisor--range between the making of the film and the degree to which the actors came to inhabit their parts, to their own wartime experiences. Both commentaries bring a fresh level of appreciation and understanding to the film. Also included is the original trailer and three TV commercials, together with well-presented stills galleries of behind-the-scenes photos and poster art. Following a credit sequence marred by dirt on the print, the anamorphically enhanced 1.77:1 image is sharp and clear. The many night scenes are very dark but remain easily comprehensible. The three-channel Dolby Digital sound is suitably raw and powerful, though an early sequence featuring rain in the jungle suffers from very distracting repeated drop-outs in the left channel. --Gary S Dalkin