Apocalypse Now 1979 ★★★★★

Art imitates life, so the saying goes, yet in the case of Apocalypse Now with its tortured and maddening production, life imitated art. The film’s problematic production is almost as legendary as the film itself yet this difficult development seeps into every frame. It is hard to imagine that the film would have so brilliantly captured the feverish descent into darkness if the making of the film had been such an effortless experience. It brilliantly depicts the hallucinatory hell of war because it was hell for those involved in its creation.

It is hard to imagine a film like this was made in the first place. A big budget movie with an impressive star cast that is more dreamy and elusive art-house epic than a mainstream crowd pleasure. It is a once in a generation film that could only have been made by a director at the peak of their talents and with total creative freedom. Yet despite its uncompromised vision (at no point do you feel Coppola had to make it more palatable for a wide demographic) it is still a surprisingly accessible film, perhaps because every person has a slightly different interpretation and connection to the events on screen.

Like Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, the film is a nightmarish journey down river where an obsessive quest will lead to insanity and ultimately the loss of humanity. It is one of the few films that attempts to not only capture the horrors of war but also its absurdity and surrealism. Although the film has a very clear driving force - to find and assassinate Colonel Kurtz - it is far more fluid than typical war films. Essentially it is a loose connection of fragmentary set pieces all of which helps accentuate its feverish and disorienting tone.

The film marked the end of Coppola’s quite staggering creative streak whereby, in a seven year period, he would make four masterpieces in a row. No artist can ever sustain such a peak of creative brilliance and it is hardly surprising that a film as all consuming as this would be his last genuine classic. Yet, as with all periods of sustained excellence, they involve regular collaborators. One of the key collaborations for Coppola was undoubtedly sound and editing specialist, Walter Murch. His sound design in all four films is crucial in establishing mood and none more so than here. Coupled with the great Vittorio Storaro’s kaleidoscopic cinematography (Coppola and Storaro would work together again on the equally beautiful but sorely underrated, One from the Heart), it created a heady and haunting audio-visual experience.

Performances are equally exceptional with Martin Sheen never better and the larger than life cameos from Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and the towering Marlon Brando as the enigmatic Kurtz all perfectly capture the insanity of war.

Haunting, harrowing and hallucinatory; Apocalypse Now is without equal.

14 Comments

  • This review makes me want to watch it again. It has been a few years since I last seen this film, I still remember most of it but what I remember is reminiscent to that of a dream which fits well with your review. Certainly time for a rewatch.

  • Like you I hadn't watched it in a little while but I had been given the Blu-Ray for Christmas and thought I really ought to watch it again (the HD transfer is sensational by the way).

    Despite having watched it about five times before I had never noticed the complete absence of credits before or after the film.

  • One of my top 20 films, a 5/5 for sure.

  • In a way I forgot just how damn good it was. I always knew it was a 5/5 but almost took for granted just how brilliant the film is in every department.

  • Same thing happened with me, Adam. When I got the blu-ray and watched it for the first time in years, I was blown away. That's a hard thing for a movie to do - blow-away a viewer who already recognizes the movie as a masterpiece.

    PS: I recommend the blu-ray as much as humanly possible. Looks and sounds impossibly amazing.

  • I still have yet to watch my Blu Ray copy of the film because I'm waiting for a friend to come over and watch it for the first time on my home theater, because I refuse to let him watch it on anything less.

  • @Ryan: The Blu-Ray is indeed amazing. Plus it comes with the excellent Heart of Darkness documentary which is a must see for fans of the film or fans of film in general.

    @Cinebro: You should drag your friend around to your house immediately to watch it. Either that or get better friends that have already seen the film.

  • Which version did you watch, and your thoughts on the '79 cut vs. the REDUX?

  • I watched the superior theatrical cut. I don't mind the redux but for me the additions add very little to the experience.

  • "dreamy and elusive art-house epic", my thoughts exactly. Just re-watched it last night and I'm shocked that something like this was even made. Are there any comparable art-house epics of this scale coming out these days?

  • @Philip: I can't think of any modern day equivalents, not on this scale anyway.

  • As far as "art-house epics", maybe a Wong Kar-Wai or Malick would fit.

  • So so so much agree with the first para... The film Coppola never recovered from.

  • I don't entirely agree as I'm one of the few people who loves One from the Heart.

Please to comment.