When Perfection Causes Imperfection
At the height of the Vietnam War U.S. Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a mission which officially doesn't exist. The mission is to track down Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has lead his men across the border in to Cambodia where he is conducting his own hit and run missions. With the army believing the heavily decorated soldier to have lost it Willard is to kill him. First they must make it up the Nung River with the help of Lt Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and the U.S Army helicopter cavalry group to clear a path. But after negotiating a series of close encounters they finally make it to where Kurtz has stationed himself, and the question is will Willard be able to kill him?
Visually it is impossible to deny that "Apocalypse Now" is ridiculously spectacular in fact considering when this was made I would even say it is out of this world spectacular. From the use of sunsets, smoke on the water, helicopters flying in formation above the trees and I could go on because it is astonishingly good. Even the actor placement is visually perfect with many a time Martin Sheen right in the forefront of the shot whilst plenty of action is going one around him. Okay I say spectacular but I also have to say at the same time that maybe it is a little too impressive, a little too choreographed because the visuality of the movie is a dominant force. It actually leaves me torn because it takes someone seriously courageous to make something this visual but then at the same time I feel it is excessive.
Then there is the acting and whilst there are memorable performances in "Apocalypse Now" especially from acting legends such as Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall the movie rests on Martin Sheen's shoulders and he makes it. From the notorious mirror smashing scene through to the way he is at the forefront of so many scenes peering out, observing the craziness going on around him with a quietness which makes him mysterious especially after we have witnessed his own voyage into craziness early on.
But here is the thing about "Apocalypse Now" it is so choreographed, so scripted, so perfect that it becomes imperfect. The realism is lost in creating the perfect shot, manufacturing the right amount of light to accentuate the shadows between Marlon Brando's fingers as he rubs them over his shaved head. It is stunning but simply too stunning for its own good.
What this all boils down to is that "Apocalypse Now" is a piece of art, a visually magnificent movie which will captivate you with one visually spectacular scene after another be it something as spectacular as helicopters flying through the sky to the perfect angle to capture a face through the bamboo bars of a cage. But by being so spectacularly perfect it ends up robbing the movie of some of its narrative power.