Ever since Oliver Stone returned from Vietnam in 1968 as a young, disillusioned infantryman who wanted to write films, he had a dream of making a film about his experience there. In 1986, that film was realized in "Platoon," which would win four Academy Awards: best picture, best director, best sound and best film editing.
The film starred Charlie Sheen as Chris Taylor, a young man who dropped out of college to find a new experience in the war. The other two lead actors were Tom Berenger, as the morally broken platoon sergeant, Barnes, and Willem Dafoe as Sergeant Elias, Taylor's squad leader. Among the other actors in the film were John C. McGinley, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, Forest Whittaker and Mark Moses. Johnny Depp, not yet well known, had a small part as one of the platoon members, Private Lerner.
The plot of the film develops around the pressure of a guerrilla war pushing Barnes into commission of a war crime, where he is confronted by Elias. As the action builds, and a court martial seems likely for Barnes, Barnes encounters Elias during a firefight when there are no witnesses and shoots Elias. Not knowing Elias is still alive, Barnes returns to a helicopter extraction point with the rest of the platoon and reports Elias dead. Then a wounded Elias appears, who is then killed by North Vietnamese soldiers. Taylor, knowing that Barnes murdered Elias, plots to kill Barnes but loses to Barnes in a confrontation during a stand-down. A major battle marks the climax of the film, when Taylor finally kills Barnes.
The story line of the film is critical, but it also carries Stone's successful attempt to portray the day-to-day realities of the war -- burn-out, latrine duty, rain and insects, boredom punctuated by terror, social divisions between members of the platoon, and grunt sub-culture. The moral ambiguities experienced by foot soldiers in Vietnam was vividly portrayed, as was the cruelty of the war for the Vietnamese. Unlike "Deerhunter" and "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon" was well-received by infantry veterans of Vietnam as an authentic portrayal of their experience there.
By industry standards, "Platoon" was an inexpensive film, costing only $6.5 million. It was shot in less than two months in the Philippines, and was nearly cancelled due to an armed insurgency that flared there against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. In a 2011 interview, Stone said that after the guerrillas seized control of the area where they were shooting the film, he was forced to "bribe a whole new set of people."
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