“Platoon” is a 1986 American anti-war film written and directed by Oliver Stone, starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen. It is the first film of a trilogy of Vietnam War films directed by Stone, followed by Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven & Earth (1993). Stone wrote the screenplay based upon his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam, to counter the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne’s The Green Berets. Platoon was the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. “Platoon” won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1986; it also won Best Director for Oliver Stone.
Chris Taylor is a young, naive American who gives up college and volunteers for combat in Vietnam. Upon arrival, he quickly discovers that his presence is quite nonessential, and is considered insignificant to the other soldiers, as he has not fought for as long as the rest of them and felt the effects of combat. Chris has two non-commissioned officers, the ill-tempered and indestructible Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes and the more pleasant and cooperative Sergeant Elias Grodin. A line is drawn between the two NCOs and a number of men in the platoon when an illegal killing occurs during a village raid. As the war continues, Chris himself draws towards psychological meltdown. And as he struggles for survival, he soon realizes he is fighting two battles, the conflict with the enemy and the conflict between the men within his platoon. Georges Delerue wrote the score.
I remember the first time I saw this movie it had an impact on me like very, very few movies had before. The raw emotions, the truth, the way the movie was made left me speechless for quite some time once the closing credits came on. Musically, of course, the first thing anyone remembers from this movie is Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for strings”, one of the most recognisable musical pieces in film history and one that plays over one of the most emotional scenes of “Platoon”. Now, in 2018, we get an expanded release of Georges Delerue’s score from Quartet Records and it’s time to explore the music since that one piece suffocated the rest of the score for me.
The score opens with a short version of the Adagio in “The village” and it’s alright because this piece is inescapable in relation to the movie; it’s a version reworked by Delerue which blends into the score as the tone of the composition is similar: respectful, sad, almost elegiac and with a constant sense of unavoidable tragedy. The “Main titles” could very well be the dramatic end titles as the composer doesn’t build up the drama starting from something pleasant; just like Oliver Stone does in his movie, nothing is romanced, nothing is idealised and everything is hopeless and depressing. The score is string heavy but the strings are usually not furious, just poignant and deluded. The music is beautiful and it’s a passage between the sombre and soulful romance of the legacy golden age of film music and the more tense and modern take. As sad as the tone is sometimes the music is endearing and tender, like in “Rejoice in the youth”, like a smile on a face wet with tears.
As the war scenes begin in the movie so the music turns from lyrical to tense; “Grunts in the rain” is the first such moment and it sends chills down my spine. The orchestra hides and gets quieter. The composer still manages to keep a light on, the melody, but the dark and tense atmosphere quietly smothers it until the feeling of choking is transferred to me as a listener in “Maybe I found it / Ambush”. The main theme of the movie resurfaces in “Base camp” as only a small break in the tense, chilling texture. The way Delerue builds the tension reminds me a bit of how Morricone did it in the spaghetti westerns, with sudden wooden noises and sudden flute inserts that break the darkness.
“Platoon” is a score as dense as the movie while in the same time not at all intrusive as to take the focus off the images; the combination of melodic, tear inducing drama and tension works very well as the balance mirrors that in the movie, a constant conflict, both internal and external. If you haven’t heard this score yet this release is a good chance to be introduced to it and if you have, rediscovering it in an expanded version will not hurt.
Cue rating: 93 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 36
Album excellence: 64%
The Village (Orchestra Only)*†
Rejoice in thy Youth†
Carrying the Children† / Time We Got Ours Kicked† / Sun and Rain†
The Enemy Was in Us†
The Soul of an Innocent
The Turning Point
Finale and End Title