Apocalypse Now (1979)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Epic, Adventure Drama, Anti-War Film, Jungle Film, War Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 15, 1979 (USA)  |   Run Time - 153 min.  |   Countries - Belgium, United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mark Deming

Filmmaking masterpieces are often products of fate rather than design, and while Francis Ford Coppola's fierce ambition to create a great work of art is obvious in Apocalypse Now, the same ambition often threatens to crush the picture under its own weight. Apocalypse Now is an elaborate but often haphazard construction that starts to run out of gas at the three-quarter point without delivering a satisfying ending, and Marlon Brando's often lackadaisical performance as Col. Kurtz never lives up to the massive buildup the story gives it. And yet there are moments as powerful as anything Coppola (or anyone else) ever put on screen, and there are enough of them to make the film a flawed but unmistakable triumph. The air attack set to Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries and the Battle at Do Lung Bridge capture the terror and madness of war as few films have, and the further Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his men travel up the river, the deeper they are drawn into a surreal nightmare where right and wrong, danger and security, past and present, have begun to blur. Coppola also drew a superb performance from Martin Sheen as Willard; a fine but inconsistent actor, Sheen rarely had a role as good as Willard, and he rises to the occasion. There's also excellent supporting work from Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, G.D. Spradlin, and particularly Albert Hall, who, as Chief, has the burden of being the sole unambiguously disciplined and dedicated soldier in the film. Coppola was famously quoted as saying "This isn't a film about Viet Nam, this film is Viet Nam." If, like that war, Apocalypse Now doesn't quite achieve its objective, it comes close enough to stand as Coppola's last great film.