Platoon is a classic war film that deals with the attitudes and actions of US soldiers in Vietnam. An intense experience, and essential viewing for war film fans.
First a quick note: having seen two war films in one day, I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of them. I do respect their craftsmanship and some of the messages they convey, but for a war film to be serious it almost inevitably loses a lot of joy. There are fun moments, in both Waltz With Bashir and Platoon, but they are dwarfed by the serious nature of their subject matter. I haven't seen a whole lot of them, for this reason, but there's no doubt in my mind that while Platoon is a great film, I'd sooner revisit the more sensationalist Where Eagles Dare because it's so much more fun.
Oliver Stone's Platoon follows a group of soldiers on the front-lines of the Vietnam War. The film, deservedly I think, won a slew of awards in 1986. It is a brutal vision of war (a response, Stone says, to the more jingoistic representations of Vietnam that came before), in which good and evil are far from cut and dry.
Charlie Sheens' reputation has taken a few hits of late, but there was a time when he could be considered a great actor. In this film he is the everyman, the portal through which the audience experiences the war. Brimming with naivety when he first arrives, he builds a rapport with his group and soon becomes one of them. Drinking, smoking pot, fighting, shooting, killing whatever. But he retains enough humanity - even when he snaps at an innocent villager - that we empathise with him. His outburst carries restraint, while the men around him lose it completely and commit atrocities. The film is devastatingly unflinching in its portrayal of fatal miscommunication between cultures.
But the war is not about the Americans vs. the NVA - whenever conflict takes place between the two armies its hardly clear who's who and who we should be rooting for. At the end of the movie Taylor observes "the enemy was in us." The film is about the war that went on in the souls of the soldiers who fought it. Lost to reason, rationality and morality. Thrown into hell and told to fight their way out of it.
Willem Dafoe plays Elias - the closest thing to a hero of the group; a mentor figure to Taylor, and the primary victim of the division amongst the soldiers. He's not the main character, but his image will stick in your mind leaving the movie, and the things that befall his character effectively represent what the film is trying to say about war.
But it's best summed up in the tagline: "The first casualty of war is innocence."