Inspired by the director’s own tour of duty in Vietnam, Oliver Stone’s 1986 war classic brings the barbaric nature of the guerilla conflict – and its morality-skewing mental effect on the American soldiers – to life in unsettling, disturbing style, including one death scene that’s visually and contextually iconic.
Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) had been one of the few good men in the battalion, defending Taylor (Charlie Sheen) when he’s being bulled, and clobbering Sergeant Barnes for his immoral approach to Vietnamese interrogation. As their rivalry escalates, Barnes secretly guns him down in cold blood before callously walking away and declaring him dead.
As the platoon helicopters out, they turn to see a sole, lonely figure running into the clearing, flanked by countless Vietcong soldiers. In a scene that tragically echoes a legendary military photograph, and to the heartbreaking score of Adagio for Strings, Elias falls, forsaken for both an internal and external conflict that’s futile at every turn.