In case you’re one of the 30 people who haven’t seen Apocalypse Now in any of its iterations I will give you a short summation. Martin Sheen plays Captain Ben Willard, an army officer suffering from severe PTSD, who after one tour in Vietnam, feels a desperate need to return because he can’t function at home anymore. He is tasked with the mission of finding a rogue Army Ranger, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando in one of the most epic performances ever committed to celluloid). He was a model officer who went mad and formed his own enclave on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia where he is worshipped like a god and kills indiscriminately, even American soldiers.
Willard has to travel to Kurtz by boat and is assigned to a Navy flotilla. Onboard “PBR Streetgang” we meet: Chief Phillips (Albert Hall), the no-nonsense Captain of the ship, Jay Hicks or “Chef”(Frederic Forrest), a Louisiana native who is “strung up too tight for Vietnam, and probably for Louisiana too”, professional surfer and the closest thing to a hippie in the bunch named Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms), and last but not least, 17 year old wild child, Tyrone Miller aka Mr. Clean, played by a young Laurence Fishburne who lied about his age to get the part.
“…the beloved classic absolutely deserves to be seen in theaters, if only for the 4K restoration and the amazing sound…”
The PBR Streetgang crew goes down river and face all sorts of challenges along the way. None the least of which is a tiger, or perhaps more scarily, a group of existential angry French expatriates. Finally, the crew reaches Kurtz’ compound, and there they meet an acid casualty photographer and newfound Kurtz devotee, who’s unnamed but is played to absolute psychotic perfection by Dennis Hopper. Additionally, Harrison Ford plays the smallest bit part right at the beginning as Colonel Lucas, whose name is more than likely a nod to the man who was originally supposed to write the film, George “Star Wars” Lucas.
As much as George Lucas is a total genius, I’m very glad that he didn’t direct Apocalypse Now. John Milius wrote the script with Lucas in mind, and it was to be shot in a verite-style but as Coppola said at the Final Cut premiere “George was very wrapped up in his Star Wars.” and the rest is history. Coppola and the cast and crew had a very hard time making this movie. Almost everyone went nuts; Martin Sheen had a heart attack. The US Army wouldn’t cooperate, so they had to shoot in the Philippines. A lot of the insanity of the shoot can be captured in the incredibly documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse which was by Coppola’s wife Eleanor with help from George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr.