Twenty-two years after it was first released, "Apocalypse Now" returns 53 minutes longer and is still as haunting and compelling as ever. Maybe more so after a summer of mostly mindless dreck.
Coppola's flawed masterpiece has been given a facelift by the director, restoring its prints to seductive vibrancy, turning up the sound and adding several scenes that were originally cut. It's bloated, long and brilliant, a profound indictment of war and man alike.
Based on Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the film transplants the Congo horror to the Vietnam War. Young Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) travels upriver on a classified mission to kill one of his own, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has gone insane and become a murderous demigod.
Sheen gives the best performance of his career as Willard, who becomes obsessed with Kurtz and sinks into his own madness as he travels deeper into the jungle. Brando is appropriately larger than life as the jungle recluse.
New scenes help round out the film. Footage of the navy patrol boat at the journey's outset displays camaraderie among Willard and his crew. A desperate encounter with a trio of Playboy bunnies helps humanize Willard's men.
A standout scene of Brando preaching to Willard about America's mistakes in Vietnam is now vital to the film, offering a glimpse of the method to Kurtz's madness. Though it detracts from Kurtz's mystery, it should never have been cut originally.
An extended sequence in which Willard visits a French plantation stranded in Cambodia may do more harm than good. The scene is alternately civil and erotic as a French family argues about the war and Willard spends the night with a young widow. However, the scene jumbles the film's lazy, weary pace.
But if the film's inescapable themes won't haunt you, then surely its images will: helicopters blitzing a sleepy town to Wagner's "Die Walkure"; Willard's painted face rising out of the water; the shadows on Kurtz's head. Such images are as beautiful as they are hypnotic.
Two decades after the original film was released, movies as daring as "Apocalypse Now" are hard to come by. Love it or hate it, it must be savored.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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