Twenty-two years after Francis Ford Coppola finished his masterpiece,
APOCALYPSE NOW, he has recut the film, adding in almost an extra hour of
footage into a new version titled APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX. Although it runs
over three-and-a-quarter hours, it feels shorter than your average hour and
a half movie. It is so mesmerizing that I kept forgetting to shift in my
seat, causing posterior to start to hurt.
APOCALYPSE NOW is the big movie that Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted
to make, but he had to make THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER: PART 2 first in
order to get the studio backing and the money. The filming was a disaster
in about every way imaginable, including being struck by a typhoon. The
result was that it took him 16 months rather than the scheduled 6 weeks to
complete the filming. By the end, Coppola was broke and had lost 100
pounds, but he finally had his magnum opus finished.
As the story opens, we meet Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a man way past his
breaking point. Willard is played brilliantly by Martin Sheen, who had a
heart attack during the filming. The genius of the film comes almost as
much from Sheen as Coppola. In particular, Sheen's intimate, diary-like
narration is the best part of the movie. The film's script is by John
Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of
Darkness. (The film's title appears only in graffiti, very late in the
film. There are absolutely no opening credits.)
"For my sins, they gave me a mission," Willard tells us sadly and
fatalistically in voice-over as, drunk and bloody, he crashes around his
Saigon hotel room. A former CIA operative, Willard is tired, very tired and
A very young and awkward Harrison Ford, as Colonel G Lucas, gives Willard
his assignment. Lucas orders Willard to terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz
(Marlon Brando). "Terminate with extreme prejudice," a man identified only
as a civilian (Jerry Ziesmer) clarifies the orders. After this, Lucas adds,
"You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist nor will it ever
Willard boards a small boat to go way up river into Cambodia in order to
locate Kurtz. Willard exists in a world of his own. He doesn't belong in
Vietnam, but, after having recently gone home, he realizes that he doesn't
belong there anymore either. He feels quite different from the young
soldiers on the small boat with him. They smoke dope and drop acid as they
head through deadly territory. A 14-year-old "Larry" Fishburne (THE MATRIX)
plays one of these solders.
Willard wonders why they want Kurtz killed. Is it just politics? The more
he reads about Kurtz from his dossier, the more he comes to admire him.
Dennis Hopper, as a spaced-out, freelance photographer, calls Kurtz, "a poet
warrior in the classic sense."
Along the way, Willard meets Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert
Duvall), an officer nicknamed "Big Duke." With his large hat, golden ascot
and the looks of a GQ model, Kilgore is a fearless soldier who thinks no
bullet can touch him and who prides himself on taking care of his men. He's
also a huge surfing fan. When he finds the perfect wave, at least as
perfect as can be found in Vietnam, he orders his surfers to suit up. But
since this is in the middle of a battle, the napalm, much to Kilgore's
chagrin, spoils the wind and hence the surf.
One of the film's most impressive visuals is of Kilgore's air cavalry
helicopters coming in to bomb and strafe a village. As they swoop down from
the skies, Kilgore orders "The Ride Of The Valkyries" to be played loudly on
the helicopter's loudspeakers in order to scare the villagers.
With sweeping vistas, incredible sound effects and dramatic music and with
soldiers seen frequently in mud, blood, sweat and war paint, Coppola paints
a surrealistic view of the war from realistic parts. This is in contrast to
another brilliant war movie, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which Spielberg made
equally horrifying using photorealism.
One of the many added scenes in APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX is one with Playboy
bunnies in which the young soldiers try to pose them in the same position as
they were in their centerfold pictures. It comes off sadly touching.
This hell on earth is best described by one of the men deep in the jungle
who tells Willard, "You're in the asshole of the world." Willard keeps
encountering leaderless troops, which can be viewed as a metaphor for the
Vietnam War itself.
Keep an eye out for Coppola in a cameo. He appears as a television director
who instructs Willard to act natural during a firefight since they are
The question for reviewers is whether to evaluate APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX on
its own or compare it to the original. Since it has been too long since
I've seen the original, I'll evaluate it on its own. It's an incredible
film and a classic, but it's not quite perfect. A lot less of Brando would
have been better, and the film's last act isn't as good as the rest of the
picture. But still it is an amazing achievement worth many viewings.
Whatever you do, don't pass on the probably brief opportunity to see
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX on the big screen.
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX runs a surprisingly short feeling 3:17 (not including
the ending credits). The film is rated R for disturbing violent images,
language, sexual content and some drug use and would be acceptable for older
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes