Full Metal Jacket (1987)

full metal jacket

“Seven-six-two millimeter. Full metal jacket.”

The Scoop: 1987 R, directed Stanley Kubrick and starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Adam Baldwin

Summary Capsule: War is hell, blah blah blah, don’t take small kids to Viet Nam, blah blah blah

Clare’s rating: it’s two, two, two movies in one.

Clare’s review: First things first about Full Metal Jacket. I’ve been trying for weeks to figure a way to make this review funny. Full Metal Jacket, although it contains a couple of funny moments, doesn’t lend itself to mocking or to making funny comments. It’s a movie about Marines in Vietnam. I know men who fought in the Vietnam “conflict”. None of them have ever said anything that would lead me to believe that their experience was anything less than a nightmare. So, I’ve decided I’m going to put my desire to entertain you with wittiness away and get down to business.

Here’s my take on Stanley Kubrick. Love his work or hate it, there’s no way to deny it. I’ve seen everything he’s made and no matter how I felt about the stories or the characters, I couldn’t help but walk around with the movie in my head for the next few days after watching. I most often tend to refer to his films as “haunting”. They follow you around for a while after you’re done with them. So, while I am extremely ambivalent about my feelings toward how this film effected me, I also think that it’s absolutely a must see.

Full Metal Jacket is actually two short movies that have characters in common. I’m not sure if that was Kubrick’s intention, but it’s pretty much the truth. The first half of the movie follows a group of new recruits through Marine boot camp. This ain’t no reality TV show for FOX either. I’ve heard Marine friends of mine say that it’s as close to a realistic portrayal of what boot camp is actually like that’s ever been filmed. I’ve also heard Marines who find endless technical faults with the way the drill instructor and recruits speak to one another, dress and behave. Either way, this first half is where I put my money every time I watch Full Metal Jacket. There is a creeping, muted, under the surface terror that builds as you realize the extent to which these men must remove themselves from their vocations. They are being trained to become unstoppable killing machines. But, as Joker, the protagonist of both sections, points out the Marines don’t want to create mindless robots. Their goal is to create fearless men who are incomparably trained to murder the enemy. It is this psychological breaking down and rebuilding that is the most fascinating part of the film for me. Because the desired end result is to create a killer, even the biggest success stories from the training are still rendered into something wholly removed from what could be called a “normal” man. The tenuous psychological balance these men are required to maintain is explained in a telling scene by the squad’s drill instructor (R. Lee Ermey). He advises his troop that Charles Whitman, who randomly shot and killed 20 people perched on the 28th floor of the Tower at UT (the building next to which I attended most of my classes last semester) and Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated JFK, were “individuals (who) showed what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do”. Clearly, this kind of training, if thrust upon the wrong mind, creates monstrous results.

Which leads me to my favorite part of Full Metal Jacket. Boot camp creates hardened killers. But what happens if the training works a little TOO well (or not nearly well enough depending on how you look at it)? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out for yourself. But I just couldn’t do a review of Full Metal Jacket without mentioning that Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as Private Gomer Pyle is mind bogglingly well done. Especially if you’ve ever seen him in anything else and when you realize that this was only his 3rd movie appearance. He’s proven himself since then to be an undeniable powerhouse and a truly remarkable modern actor. However, fourteen years after its original release, people still remember him most readily for his performance in this film.

Part two of Full Metal Jacket follows Joker, now a war time correspondent for the military, through his first combat experience in Vietnam. Now that we know what it took to get Joker to this point, the movie shows how Joker’s training influences his ability to endure the realities of combat. The second half is, in my opinion, generally weaker in tone and in impact than the first half, but is still well worth watching. The thing that most impacted me was that the majority of events depicted in part two were taken directly from biographical accounts of actual events. This ain’t no Hollywood version of the glamors of war and because of that, it’s at times extremely hard to watch. Another interesting aspect of part two is that, although it takes place in Vietnam, there’s not a jungle scene to be found. These soldiers fight in the burned out rubble of small towns and flat plains. I’ve never seen any other Vietnam movie that did this. Turns out of course that Kubrick shot all these scenes on a stage in London, but clearly, the removal of the jungle from the battle was an interesting, if not a little confusing, choice.

In any event, I have to recommend Full Metal Jacket. I don’t know that I can guarantee you’ll like it, but I’m confident that it will at least give you a whole lot to think about.

FYI: I gave the movie a rewatchability rating of 3 only because it’s so intense and stayed with me for so long. I can’t imagine going back any time soon for a second helping.


Justin’s rating: Kubrick Coos the Blues

Justin’s review: As Clare pointed out, FMJ is two movies in one, and the second one (in my opinion) ain’t worth seeing. Seriously. Rent it, watch it through the boot camp and stop there. It’s a complete movie in and of itself, and the second half is like a whiny kid jumping up and down saying, “I can make a point too!” That point is: Vietnam wasn’t that fun of an experience.

We all know this. It wasn’t the George Clooney war, or the Alan Alda war, or the Tom Hanks war. It was the war that spawned Rambo. Other than that, films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and even Hot Shots! Part Deux have reiterated that Vietnam was (1) pointless, (2) messed a lot of people’s minds up, (3) lacked large scale tank battles, and (4) had no rest stops.

I don’t like Kubrick in general. He loves to plod his films along, which is great for developing complex characters, but awful when you realize that he chews up a LOT of time just looking at scenery and being atmospheric. FMJ is an emotional trip, and while I’ve seen the boot camp section enough times so that I’m not scarred anymore (except when I pick at the scab), it still remains one of his best sections of film committed to the screen. You really feel for Gomer Pyle, and also hate him at the same time. We’re put it the role of Joker, friend and annoyed bystander. When it gets pretty dark (yay, dark is trippy), the theme of civilization breaking down pops to the surface like a bloated corpse. In a smaller sense, we get that in the boot camp, where authority is found not supreme. In a larger sense, we get it in Vietnam, where everything’s just FUBAR and whatnot.

I take a wishy-washy stand in saying that Full Metal Jacket does not attain the god-like status that some people have promoted it to. But I annex that statement by admitting to the genius of the boot camp movie. It does say a lot about the history of Vietnam, and I can’t trash that. Essentially, I want you all to love me, and you’re going to all hate me. Man, this is a fun job!

Can't really funny-ize FMJ...
Can’t really funny-ize FMJ…


  • Full Metal Jacket is based on the novel The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford who was grudgingly given screenwriter credit on the film after an intense legal battle with Stanley Kubrick. Hasford insists that 90% of the script came directly from his semi auto-biographical novel.
  • The scene where Joker & Rafterman watch the crazed gunner in the chopper shoot civilians is taken directly from “Dispatches,” co-screenwriter Michael Herr’s memoir of his experiences as a freelance journalist in Vietnam
  • Vincent D’Onofrio gained 70 pounds to play “fat ass” Private Pyle
  • Former US Marines Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was hired as a consultant on how to drill USMC style. He performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse non-stop for fifteen minutes without stopping, repeating himself, or even flinching – despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Director Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Sgt. Hartmann.
  • The Kubrick stare
  • Mickey Mouse is referenced at the end of both sections
  • The cell phone tower in Vietnam
  • As Joker prepares to kill the sniper, his chest turns as he raises the gun — hiding his peace symbol button from view.
  • On several occasions, the word “repeat” is used while speaking on the radio. In the Marine Corps, the use of the word “repeat” on the radio is strictly forbidden. It is considered an offense of such magnitude it never occurs. The term used would be: “say again your last” or “I say again.” [D.K. writes in, “The reason that repeat is never used on radios is because of artillery, repeat in radio terms means put down fire on the previous fire coordinates quoted or if no coordinates are quoted on the position that the operator is at hence it is drilled into you in training to never use the term repeat.”]

Groovy Quotes

Joker: The dead know only one thing: it’s better to be alive.

Drill Instructor Hartman: God has a hard on for Marines, because we kill everything we see. He plays His games, we play ours. To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls. God was here before the marine corps, so you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the corps! Do you ladies understand?

Recruits [chanting]: This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of my enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

Joker: Sir, it is the private’s duty to inform the Senior Drill Instructor that Private Pyle has a full magazine and has locked and loaded, sir!

Joker: I wanted to meet stimulating and interesting people of an ancient culture, and kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.

Joker: Hey, you got girlfriend Vietnam? Me so horny. Me love you long time.

Drill Instructor Hartman: A rifle is only a tool. It’s a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines. And then you will be in a world of sh**. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission! Do you maggots understand?

Joker (nearing boot camp graduation): The drill instructors are proud to see that we are growing beyond their control. The Marine Corps does not want robots. The Marine Corps wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men, men without fear.

Joker (during combat in Vietnam): I am so happy that I am alive, in one piece and short. I’m in a world of sh** . . . yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.

Joker: Are those… live rounds?
Gomer Pyle: Seven-six-two millimeter. Full metal jacket.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Platoon
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Birdy

One comment

  1. I don’t believe the Vietnam parts were filmed in a studio. From what I read at the time there is a section of London that was burned out by fire (or destroyed during the blitz and never repaired) that happened to have buildings built by one of the same architects who built in Saigon (or Hue, or somewhere in Vietnam). The area was destined to be leveled for new construction and Kubrick got word and rushed everything into production in order to take advantage of the location. The rush meant grabbing chunks of a book about the battle of Hue that he hadn’t secured the rights to, which you covered well above.

    The second half doesn’t work so well because they blended two parts of the Short Timers and the joining is a bit uneven. Still I like the second half as you never see urban Vietnam conflict in the movies and rarely tanks. Its always the jungles of the Philippines so the second half makes a nice counter-part to Apocolypse Now.

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