Instead of giving you five reasons why I love ‘Platoon’, which would be unfair since it’s my favourite film of all time, I’m going to give you five reasons why you should stop what you’re doing and watch ‘Platoon’ right now.

To give you some background on why I love this film so much, I’ll need to give you the basics. ‘Platoon’ was released in theaters on December 19th, 1986. It was written and directed by Oliver Stone and is a semi-autobiographical account of Stone, who served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Serving in the 1st Cavalry Division and the 25th Infantry Division, which is the unit that the soldiers in ‘Platoon’ are in, Stone served two tours in the jungles of Vietnam and based ‘Platoon’ on his experiences there.

If that wasn’t enough, ‘Platoon’ was released to high critic acclaim. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, along with the second ever Best Picture Award at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Globe for Best Picture, all in the same year.

‘Platoon’ stars an ensemble cast. Only a few actors at the time, such as Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, had major film credits to their names. Charlie Sheen had some minor roles in the early 80’s but relative unknowns like John C. McGinley, Mark Moses, Forest Whitiker, Johnny Depp and Kevin Dillon, were all young actors making their major film debuts in ‘Platoon’.

So, why should you watch ‘Platoon’?

1) It’s fervently anti-war. Robert Altman once said that all good war movies are anti-war movies and ‘Platoon’ is no exception. Stone doesn’t shy away from his claim that the first causality of war is innocence. In fact, that was the tagline of the film and it appeared on the poster. Seen through the eyes of Charlie Sheen, a young college drop-out who thinks it’s unfair for poor men to go off to war, as promised, what is the first thing Charlie’s character looses? Yep, his innocence, especially after killing his first human being. The anti-war themes are strong in the film and it’s one of the reasons why you should see it.

2) No glitz, no glory, no glamour. War is hell and it’s dirty. In fact, there are many times in the film when the soldiers try to get out of combat. Whether it was Junior spraying mosquito repellent on his feet or Francis stabbing himself or Big Harold trying to get circumcised, we see at least three characters in ‘Platoon’ (and there are more) try to get out of combat. But are they shown as cowards? Absolutely not. After the film’s over, I dare you to think that you wouldn’t have stabbed yourself in the thigh just like Francis did and I don’t think anyone would blame you for it either.

3) No objectives. Before ‘Platoon’, many war movies in Hollywood were about a group of brave, valiant soldiers storming a beach, raiding a bunker, taking a hill or rescuing an important military/political figure. In ‘Platoon’, ask yourself, “Where are they going?”, especially during the opening credits, which just so happens to see the troops out of patrol. In fact, ask yourself, “Where are they going?”, “What are they doing?”, “Why are they there?” and “What’s the significance of the area they’re taking?” Since ‘Platoon’ is a character-driven war film, the object is not to take a position from the enemy. It’s to survive and that’s all. When you do see the film, ask the same questions that I asked above and see if you can come up with a clear, concrete answer, another than survival.

4) Strong performances. I saw ‘Platoon’ for the first time in 1996. I was 13 at the time and after seeing ‘Platoon’ I was blown away. I owe a lot to it, including me going to film school, my screenwriting endeavors and my interest in film reviews. A big part of what I’m doing with this blog has to do with ‘Platoon’.

Now, if you’re like me, you also saw Charlie Sheen in movies like ‘Hot Shots’, ‘Hot Shots: Part Deux’, ‘Major League’ and ‘Major League 2.’ In each of these films, Charlie plays the comedic lead and as a 13 year old boy, I didn’t know that Charlie had ever performed in dramatic films. The performance to look out for however, is Tom Berenger who plays the antagonist, Staff Sergeant Barnes. Tom plays a deeply sadistic man who not only has been in the bush for too long but one who will do anything to stay there. While in the end, we do see Barnes’ venerability, he’s still an evil man who does evil things so he can stay in the jungle. However, all of the performances in ‘Platoon’ are great. Whether it’s the compassionate Sergeant Elias played by Willem Dafoe or the cowardly Sergeant O’Neil played by John C. McGinley, each actor bring something unique to the table. This leads me to what I consider is the most important reason why you should watch ‘Platoon’.

5) Individuality. If you look at old war movies, particularly from John Wayne, you’ll find that the soldiers in many war movies blend into the scenery and are hardly memorable. In ‘Platoon’, this is hardy the case. While you might not remember everyone’s name in the 35 member platoon until the end credits, I guarantee that you will remember their appearances. And why? Oliver Stone worked directly with the costume crew to make each solider stand out from one another. During rehearsals, Stone encouraged the actors to write sayings and pictures on their helmets and clothes. Some wore peace signs and coal miners bracelets. Others placed packs of cigarettes and/or small bottles of ‘bug juice’ on their helmets. The first thing that stands out is just how individualized each character really is. They aren’t just names and we care about them despite the fact that they aren’t the lead actors in the film. While this might have been harder to do in older films, Stone claims that each solider he served with in Vietnam did such things. To me, the most important thing we have as people is our individuality. We are not all the same. We have different tastes and styles and this is reflected heavily in ‘Platoon’. This is also reflected in the social cliques within the platoon. Whether it was the contrasts between the black soldiers and the white soldiers or the beer drinkers and the potheads.

For all of the reasons I wrote above, including making each solider a human being, is the most important reason why you need to stop everything right now and go watch ‘Platoon’ this second.

It’s a wonderful film and you will in wonder. I can’t give ‘Platoon’ anything higher than a 10/10 but I’ll add a with honours because of how much I love and appreciate this film.