The biggest asset of Francis Ford Coppola's thirty-million-dollar Vietnam War movie is the curiosity it stirred up while keeping the public cooling its heels for four years. Without that, there would be little to propel the viewer through this desultory up-river excursion, unimaginatively patterned after Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, bogged down along the way by a kind of photography that can best be described in words out of the glutton's lexicon (stuffed, gorged, bloated, heavy, chock-full, and brimming over) and by a first-person narration written in the hard-boiled idiom of the fictional private eye ("Charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500"; "It was a way we had over here of living with ourselves. We'd cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a Band-Aid. It was a lie"; and so on), and capped off by the ghostly appearance of Marlon Brando, carrying permanent and impenetrable shadows around his shaven head wherever he goes, like the planet Venus carries clouds, and whispering with his last breath his mystical insight into the Vietnam experience, "The horror, the horror" -- a general-purpose insight which served Conrad earlier on his excursion into the Dark Continent, and which should serve the moviegoer as well, as he staggers out of the dark theater where he has witnessed this movie. With Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper; original screenplay by John Milius and narration by Michael Herr. (1979) — Duncan Shepherd
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