Netflix Daily Pick: Two Sides of War in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987)

Today we offer a classic war film from one of cinema's most accomplished directors.

Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film about a Marine who observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.

Today’s Netflix pick is an unconventional war film from one of cinema’s most controversial filmmakers, taking us through the hell of basic training to the bloody battlefields. A psychological thriller as much as a drama, it focuses on the trauma of being a soldier in wartime, in a time when a nation was not behind the effort. It’s Full Metal Jacket, and it’s what you’re watching tonight. Here’s why.

THE STORY: Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket is divided into two parts, both during the Vietnam War. The first takes place on Parris Island, South Carolina where U.S. Marine Corps recruits go through basic training. It’s harrowing to say the least as we meet a diverse collection of new soldiers as they learn that life on the island ain’t going to be a pleasure trip. Among them is Private “Joker’ (Matthew Modine) a peacenik type who takes to the training fast and earns a leadership role over a squad. Drill Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) pushes them hard, especially a bumbling overweight recruit he calls “Gomer Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio), who ends up under Joker’s command. He’s ever so slowly beaten down though and his fate is one of the hardest moments of the film.

Full Metal Jacket,
Full Metal Jacket, 1987 © Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros.

It then skips ahead to their tour of duty in country where Joker is now a war correspondent and has yet to see real fighting, teased for his lack of the thousand-yard stare, a term used to describe a battle-weary soldier. That all changes though as he comes upon some truly horrifying situations that test him as a soldier and a man, ending in a sensationally gripping moment in a bombed out city with a sniper. This is not your typical war film.

WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Kubrick is notable for making some of the most impactful films ever made, and while Full Metal Jacket might not have the familiarity as such titles as 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is nonetheless one of the greatest in the genre. The screenplay is based on Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers and is a sharp mix of brutal reality and scathing commentary along with dark comedy and great depths of humanity even as the men are almost fully de-humanized.

Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket, 1987 © Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros.

What’s most compelling though is the split narrative, dividing the film into parts that in many ways are reflections of the same events with Joker in the exact center of two incredibly volatile situations that change him each time. Watch the ends of both segments carefully. They say everything about the message of the movie. Full Metal Jacket is streaming now on Netflix. Don’t hesitate.