Posts Tagged ‘Scott Glenn’

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn

It was madness that sent thousands upon thousands of young American men halfway around the world to “make the world safe from Communism.” It was the Draft which ensured that many who never would have entertained the possibility of military service would never come home from this war. Back home, it was lies and deceit coupled with the horror stories reported on the news that inspired anti-war protests. Lyndon Baines Johnson could have been regarded as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents of all time for certain key accomplishments, but the tragic mistake that was the Vietnam War will forever tarnish his legacy. Those who survived and returned home would often wind up so emotionally scarred that the madness only deepens as time goes on. Though their tour may have ended, Vietnam never truly left them.

Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) faces quite a conundrum. When he is in Vietnam, there is only the mission, otherwise he can’t wait to get out. But on the occasions when he is returned home, all he can think about is getting back. So, while in Saigon with nothing to do, the special ops soldier drinks himself half to death until someone hands him official papers telling him which way to jump. This time, he’s been summoned to his most unusual mission yet, a top secret assignment which will have him traversing into Cambodia, where he is to locate and “terminate” the rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is said to have gone insane and has been carrying out his own “missions” without any authorization from the U.S. Military. Willard has been sent on missions where he’s had to kill specific people before, just never an American. Never an officer, and certainly not one who at one point was being considered for promotion to the rank of General. Willard hitches a ride on board a Navy Patrol Boat, along with its crew of four. On several occasions, they run into trouble, once inadvertently murdering the innocent passengers of a civilian boat while checking it for hidden weapons. Each successive obstacle causes further paranoia among the crew, with some resorting to hallucinogenic alternatives to the reality of their situation. Willard himself, although bothered by these events, remains focused on his mission. There are casualties among the crew, but eventually Willard reaches his destination, finding the previous soldier sent to do the same mission (Scott Glenn) and an American civilian photo-journalist (Dennis Hopper), both seemingly worshipping the Colonel, and finally Kurtz himself.

Despite changing the location of the story, adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness,” from the African Congo to the jungles of Vietnam, the question raised by the source material of what defines civilized behavior is every bit as well-represented. “Apocalypse Now” features one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie. As the song “The End” by The Doors plays on the soundtrack, we know even without considering the Vietnam setting that this is a story which is not destined to end well for anyone. Terrific use of the rotating blades of the ceiling fan in Willard’s room in mimicking those of the helicopters flying outside. I also love the way Martin Sheen instantly lets us in on his character’s state of mind. Willard may be good at what he does, but he’s also prone to flying off the handle, which leads me to suspect that it was no accident that he was picked to go after Kurtz. I find myself in complete agreement with the actor in that my two favorite film roles of Sheen’s are this one and 1973’s “Badlands.” Laurence Fishburne, then 14, lied about how old he was in order to win the role of the 17-year old “Clean.” By the time production was finished, Fishburne had reached his character’s designated age. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper are all masters of their trade. Bizzare as it may sound, Col. Kurtz sits somewhere around fourth or fifth in my top five of Brando’s film roles, but he’s still an absolute joy to watch… even when the things Kurtz has to say don’t really make much sense. Dennis Hopper has always been a scenery-chewer, owing a lot to his ability to play characters of questionable sanity. He turned his manic meter up to 11 for this one, and I love that about him.

The behind-the-scenes account of “Apocalypse Now” is almost as intriguing as the film itself. I’ve yet to see the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” for myself, though what I have heard really makes me want to check it out. Tensions between Brando and Hopper were such that Brando refused to be on set as the same time as his co-star. Martin Sheen nearly died for this movie, suffering a heart attack after the first 12 months of the film’s arduous production. The story also goes that, for the opening scene which I love so very much, Sheen had just celebrated a birthday and did not have to act like a man who’d had one too many drinks. “Apocalypse Now” wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for director Francis Ford Coppola, either. In addition to playing referee between an overweight Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper, Coppola also had a typhoon to deal with, unreliable Filipino extras,  nervous breakdowns, rising production costs and having to replace his original lead actor, Harvey Keitel, after just the first two weeks. That he ended up creating one of if not THE greatest war movie of all-time is a miraculous sign of just how much blood, sweat and tears went into piecing this masterpiece together.

All of that being said, some directors just don’t seem to know when to leave well enough alone. Of all those who release special extended director’s cut editions, James Cameron easily has the best track record. Francis Ford Coppola has thankfully never attempted to “improve” his “Godfather” movies, but 2001’s “Apocalypse Now Redux” was a bitter disappointment, and a clearly inferior film to the more familiar 1979 cut. I have no problem criticizing this version with extreme prejudice! Nearly an hour’s worth of footage was added, and none of it makes anything resembling a welcome contribution. Especially puzzling is the decision to reinstate the French rubber plantation scene. This scene does so much to slow down the pacing of the movie that it would be like if Peter Jackson had integrated the much-talked about “Tom Bombadil” scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” into 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The crew can get where they’re headed just fine without having to make that elongated pit stop. The first time I saw “Apocalypse Now,” it was on a fullscreen VHS copy from my local video store. It made such an impression on me that I had not returned the tape before running out to purchase my own copy, this time in widescreen as it is meant to be viewed. If you haven’t seen “Apocalypse Now” and have been unsure as to which version is the best one to watch, I’m telling you now that the original version is the only one your eyes should ever witness. To do otherwise would be madness.

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Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald

One of the themes of this movie is “the things we covet.” Everybody covets something or someone. We desire that which we cannot have, or cannot become. All of the characters in this tale clearly define what it is they want most. Because it succeeds on every possible level, because of how early on that we are actively invested in the story, and because of the unique mental chess match between its two leads, “The Silence of the Lambs” is a movie that should be desired by any film aficionado to add to their collection. It is an epic crime drama, a truly horrific depiction of violence, a masterful display of acting talent and, on top of it all, a compelling love story.

This is the second film adaptation from Thomas Harris’s series of novels centered around the character of Hannibal Lecter, but the first with Anthony Hopkins in the role. Gone are the all-white interiors of “Manhunter” and, from a visual standpoint, this is a welcome change. In the case of the prison cells, these clean and sterile occupancies are replaced by dark, depressing and dirty cells, much more like what I would picture. Gone also is the character of Will Graham, now back in retirement. In his place is FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn, taking over for Dennis Farina) has given Clarice a special assignment: He needs information on the serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill,” and Jack believes that Hannibal Lecter, the former psychiatrist-turned-serial killer, might have some insight.

Dr. Lecter’s desires are complex. He wants very much to be free of his cage, but the prospects for this are highly unlikely. At the very least, he would prefer to be under the supervision of someone other than Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald), whom Lecter has come to loathe. His introduction to Clarice has given him something new. With Will Graham, Dr. Lecter had an antagonistic working relationship. Will was easy to provoke and repulse, but Clarice intrigues Lecter. Clarice is not as easily frightened (or she’s better at masking it), and although she sometimes resorts to deceptive tactics, she is also very frank in their conversations. Clarice never for a second forgets that a monster resides in that cell, but there is always respect. Because he has no window, Dr. Lecter draws portraits using his memory of places and people he has seen. One such likeness of Clarice suggests something much more, that Dr. Lecter has become attracted to Clarice. This is further implicated by how deeply personal his questions become concerning her past. Other men in the movie undress her with their eyes, but only Lecter would long for the impossible: to romance Agent Starling. The movie’s plot may seem to be about solving a string of murders and rescuing a potential victim but, really, it is all about the relationship between Clarice and Hannibal.

In addition to the Best Picture Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs,” both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were recognized with acting awards for their work. It was the second for Foster, who had previously won for her role as a trailer trash rape victim who, in fighting to get her attackers convicted, faced a prejudicial system in 1988’s “The Accused.” Here, she is at her all-time best. For me, the two of them earned their Oscars with their very first scene together. Hopkins’ Lecter is instantly bone-chilling because, out of all the maximum security prisoners, he’s the only one who doesn’t present himself as someone dangerous. Instead, his every word comes out sounding rather charming, which is how he was able to ensnare so many of his victims. Even when he talks about what he did to the census taker who tried to test him, his calm delivery makes what he has to say all the more disturbing. Clarice and Dr. Lecter have one more meeting left, but there is a piece missing (and not because our favorite cannibal ate it). As a fan of “The Silence of the Lambs,” if there is one thing I can say that I desire but will never get is another pairing of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins as these characters.