Noted Films

film 4 of 5

Apocalypse Now Redux

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 10, 2015

When it comes down to it, this film isn’t much better than Heaven’s Gate, is it? The eye is dazzled, because the cinematic fireworks are admittedly really dazzling. Coppola and Storaro and Tavoularis provide no end of jaw dropping images, and they even combine them into a few jaw dropping set pieces. (Let’s also acknowledge the signal contributions of Walter Murch; the ear is just as dazzled.) Apocalypse Now is definitely spectacular, and some kind of sensory experience. But where the perpetrators clearly intend portent, they mostly accomplish pretense. In reaching for mythological clarity, they end up with an unwieldy combination of simple minded and heavy handed. Yes, Conrad, but this adaptation/transmogrification mostly yields conceptual, intertextual murk. For me at least, the similes and analogies basically fall flat. (I feel similarly about the alleged Homeric components of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Must be an allergy of mine. [Love that George Clooney’s Clark Gable impersonation though!]) As for redux, extended versions and directors’ cuts have all sorts of interest, can provide all sorts of information and pleasure. But don’t you find that sometimes things are cut for good reason?

Finally: Francis Ford Coppola repackages and reissues his product about as often and as aggressively as the Walt Disney Corporation. As buyers, we should beware!

Finally, pt. 2: Marlon Brando gets a lot of flack for his performance here, what with the outlandish salary, the not learning his lines, the various and not always successful improvisations. All that is relevant, up to a point. Past that point, much of that seems to be motivated by malice, and why? And to what end? Gossip is ultimately less helpful than looking at the actual critical object, in this case the performance. How does it hold up?

Well, Brando was doing some strange stuff in the 1970s—check out The Missouri Breaks, and try not to scratch your head too hard—but usually with a purpose, and with considerable yield as well. Opting simply to deride or dismiss generational talents is usually a poor course. He’s superb, as are a number of others. (Dennis Hopper!)

In sum? Heaven’s Gate is still and also a mess, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain more than plenty to chew on, and make use of.