War is harsh and cruel, and can make you crazy and suck the humanity right out of you. That's the basic concept behind this surprisingly unbloody war movie, written and directed by Oliver Stone.
Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a young college student who signed up to go to Vietnam because he didn't think it was fair that the poor guys had to go, just because they couldn't afford to go to college.
By the time he arrives, most of his platoon has already been there for months or years. "They don't talk to newbies," he explains in his voiceover. The newbies haven't proved their worth yet, and are more likely to get killed. Why invest in them emotionally?
The film soon develops into a conflict, not between the Americans and the Viet Cong, but between two leaders in the group, both well-played by Tom Berenger as the war-hardened, merciless Barnes, and Willem Defoe as the compassionate but no less dedicated Elias. The two struggle against each other's methodology, each winning platoon members to their respective camps.
The soundtrack melds perfectly with the action as the two sergeants struggle with each other more than the enemy, making choices that ultimately impact the individual soldiers profoundly. It's wartime ethics writ small.
All in all, this is an excellent war movie. Tough in parts, dragging in others, as war must do. Through it all is a tension, as war must have.