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Blu-ray Review: ‘Apocalypse Now’

★★★★★

It’s difficult to find something new to say about Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now. Just about everything that can be said of this genuinely mesmeric work of art has been said a million times before. However, while it is cited by many as the greatest war movie of all time, I for one, have to disagree, as I don’t believe the qualities and celebration of this film should be confined merely within the boundaries of the war movie genre.

Based on the superb novel Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad, Apocalypse Now is surely one of cinema’s finest depictions of human psychological disintegration ever committed to celluloid. Coppola takes the source material and translates it to the era of the Vietnam War. The primary focus is placed upon Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his journey into the abyss in search of the elusive and mythical figure of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, famously played with a sense of incoherent madness by the incoherently mad Marlon Brando.

There are so many contributing factors as to why Apocalypse Now is still revered as one of the great movies of the 20th century that one can struggle to find a particular element to highlight. Yet, in my opinion, the film ultimately belongs to Coppola, as each and every scene possesses his signature as a true auteur. Whether it be from the astonishing shots of the movie’s desolate landscapes, mirroring those of its complex protagonist, or his ability to pull such, frankly, ingenious performances from his cast, everything that makes Apocalypse Now so successful can be laid firmly at the feet of Coppola.

Indeed, the performances on offer do play a significant part in creating the unstable world of Apocalypse Now. Aside from the much talked-about performance of a clearly mentally and physically unfit Brando, Sheen’s portrayal of Willard and his psychological disintegration is performed with poignant subtlety and effortlessness. In equal measure, Robert Duvall and, especially, Dennis Hopper, bring performances of unfiltered craziness, as Colonel Bill Kilgore and an unnamed photo-journalist respectively.

Duvall’s turn as the napalm-loving Kilgore has all the right ingredients of menace and humour, while Hopper’s brief but brilliantly spellbinding performance has turned the character into an almost cult figure, as his portrayal manages to encapsulate the sheer insanity of the whole piece.

While I’m sure none of this will be news to anyone to have ever watched Apocalypse Now, I can do no more than recommend that the Blu-ray release really is a worthwhile purchase. It’s abundance of special features, not to mention the superb heightening of the film’s visual presence, serve merely to emphasise just what a masterpiece this movie really is.

Daniel Gumble