On of the later Kubricks, handling the Vietnam War in three acts: The first third shows the training of the recruits, which for me was a very strong opening for showing the merciless humiliation and also the rebirth as a soldier step by step. This is followed by the second third, that plays in Vietnam itself and seems to be the weakest part. The dialogues are quite clever and interesting, but also seem a bit disconnected, more like a clipshow and less focused. Parallel to this, the characters for act three are introduced or brought together.
The third act raises the tension enormously, dialogues are reduced to a minimum and the linchpin of this act is combat. This is extremley intense due to the lack of music, long enduring moments of unease and fateful cameraangles.
This separation in three more disconnected acts was used by kubrick in „2001“ already (Dawn of Men – Moon Secret – HAL). And though it prevents emotional investment in a particular character, it creates a much more overall feeling of epicness and grandeur, leaving the audience (in the best case) back in awe. And what would be more fitting for a war this massive.
The small lengths in act 2, which are necessary to a degree to introduce characters needed for part 3, drop „Full metal jacket“ only a few inches behind my all-time-favourites „2001“ and „Dr. Strangelove“ . That however isn't supposed to say the movie isn't powerfully staged and an absolute thrill to watch – leaving behind a depressive but also fascinating feeling, making it a master of its genre, and of course, you, the viewer, a victim of silver screen war.