Oliver Stone’s 1986 film Platoon, which won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, is rightly considered a classic of its kind. With Stone’s script drawing on his own experiences as an infantryman in Vietnam, the film remains a searing indictment on America’s involvement in Vietnam. It has many uncomfortable moments in between the gunfire, camaraderie and its now much parodied iconography.
It is the camaraderie that takes the focus of this documentary, directed by cast member Paul Sanchez, who played Doc in the film. Assembling most of the cast together to discuss their experiences, this documentary dives into the memories the cast have (including Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Keith David and Johnny Depp) of their unique time on the movie. This cast weren’t treated like coddled actors. Before principal photography began, the cast were sent out on an intense two week training program to ensure that they could be convincing as riflemen in the US Army on screen.
Under the strict program set up by military advisor and Vietnam Vet Dale Dye, who also demanded that the cast only refer to each other by their character names, the mock boot camp sent the cast on excursions, occasionally living it rough, getting them as close to the real thing as possible. The recollections from the cast make the whole experience sound like it falls somewhere in between a scouts trip from hell, to a rollicking good time with the boys. Yes, they were sleeping in ditches and getting lost in dangerous jungles in a country gripped by political unrest, but parties were had and bonds were formed.
It is an experience that the cast all clearly relished, as all express how important it was for finding their characters, and achieving a level of authenticity as a band of brothers. That sense of camaraderie clearly still persists amongst the cast. Seeing them all recount the tales of the extremes in which they were prepped for the role, as well as their intense experience actually shooting the film, there’s clearly a kinship that exists to this day amongst them all. The documentary drives this very clear fact a little into the ground, but there’s a warmth amongst them all that makes this documentary very comforting viewing.
While there is a sense of cosiness, some of the stories from the set in particular do prove to be quite alarming. It is interesting to see the attitude these cast members have to their director Oliver Stone (who is suspiciously absent from the doc itself). Their feelings all seem to rest somewhere between admiration and hatred, with the director’s short tempered reputation proving to be founded on evidence from these accounts of his shit stirring behaviour on set. They clearly all understand that there was a method in his madness, that he was deliberately pushing buttons to get the results he wanted to achieve his vision, a vision they all believed, in but there were also clearly moments where the man went too far.
Brothers in Arms definitely comes across as more of an excuse for these pals to hang out again than it does for that provoking a documentary. Fans of Platoon will almost certainly get a kick, but it is doubtful that these stories are anything they haven’t heard before, as the making of has been quite well covered on bonus disc materials in the past. But it is entertaining to hear these guys talk about what is clearly a significant moment for all their careers is enjoyable, with some colourful anecdotes littered about through Doc’s doc. It is an occasionally insightful, never particularly ambitious documentary, but one filled with tales of camaraderie and revelry that bring the story of Platoon to life with a clear passion and reverence.
Dir: Paul Sanchez
Scr: Paul Sanchez
Prd: Don Anderson, Lisa Ann Poggi, Paul Sanchez
DOP: Jon Lile
Music: Billy Sullivan
Runtime: 100 minutes
Brothers in Arms is available on demand from October 5th 2020.