Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film directed, co-written, and produced by Stanley Kubrick and starring Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio and Adam Baldwin.
The screenplay by Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford was based on Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers (1979).
The storyline follows a platoon of US Marines through their boot camp training in Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, primarily focusing on two privates, Joker and Pyle, who struggle under their abusive drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and the experiences of two of the platoon’s Marines in Vietnamese cities of Da Nang and Huế during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War.
During the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, a group of boot camp recruits arrive at Parris Island. The ruthless drill instructor, Hartman, employs forceful methods to turn the recruits into combat-ready Marines. Among the recruits is the overweight and dim-witted Leonard Lawrence, whom Hartman nicknames “Gomer Pyle”, as well as the wisecracking J.T. Davis, who receives the name “Joker” after interrupting Hartman’s speech with an impression of John Wayne.
When Pyle shows ineptitude in basic training, Hartman pairs him with Joker. Under Joker’s supervision, Pyle starts to improve, but Hartman discovers a contraband jelly doughnut in Pyle’s unlocked foot locker. Blaming the platoon for Pyle’s infractions, Hartman adopts a collective punishment policy: he will punish the entire platoon, except for Pyle, for every mistake he makes. One night, the recruits haze Pyle with a blanket party in which Joker reluctantly participates. Following this, Pyle seems to reinvent himself as a model recruit, showing particular expertise in marksmanship. This impresses Hartman but worries Joker, who notices Pyle talking to his rifle and believes he may be suffering a mental breakdown.
The recruits graduate and receive their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) assignments. Joker is assigned to Military Journalism, while most of the others – including Pyle – are assigned to Infantry. During the platoon’s final night on Parris Island, Joker discovers Pyle in the head loading his rifle and executing drill commands, and loudly recites the Rifleman’s Creed. This awakens the platoon and Hartman, who confronts Pyle and orders him to surrender the rifle. Pyle shoots Hartman dead and then commits suicide, while Joker helplessly watches in horror.
In January 1968, Joker – now a sergeant – is a war correspondent in Da Nang, South Vietnam for Stars and Stripes with Private First Class Rafterman, a combat photographer. Rafterman wants to go into combat, as Joker claims he has. At the Marine base, Joker is mocked for his lack of the thousand-yard stare, indicating his lack of war experience. They are interrupted by the start of the Tet Offensive as the North Vietnamese Army unsuccessfully attempts to overrun the base.
The following day, the journalism staff is briefed about enemy attacks throughout South Vietnam. Joker is sent to Phu Bai, accompanied by Rafterman. They meet the Lusthog Squad, where Joker is reunited with Cowboy, with whom he had gone through basic training. Joker accompanies the squad during the Battle of Huế, where platoon commander “Touchdown” is killed by the enemy. After the Marines declare the area secure, a team of American news journalists and reporters enters Huế to interview various Marines about their experiences in Vietnam and their opinions about the war.
While patrolling Huế, Crazy Earl, the squad leader, is killed by a booby trap, leaving Cowboy in command. The squad becomes lost, and Cowboy orders Eightball to scout the area. A Viet Cong sniper wounds Eightball and Doc Jay, the squad Corpsman. Believing that the sniper is drawing the squad into an ambush, Cowboy attempts to radio in tank support to no avail. The squad’s machine gunner, Animal Mother, disobeys Cowboy’s orders to retreat and attempts to save his comrades. He discovers there is only one sniper, but Doc Jay and Eightball are killed when Doc Jay attempts to indicate the sniper’s location. While radioing for support, Cowboy is shot and killed through the gap of a building.
Animal Mother assumes command of the squad and leads an attack on the sniper. Joker discovers the sniper, a teenage girl, and attempts to shoot her, but his rifle jams and alerts her to his presence. Rafterman shoots the sniper, mortally wounding her. As the squad converges, the sniper begs the squad to shoot her, prompting an argument about whether to kill her or leave her to suffer. Animal Mother decides to allow a mercy killing only if Joker performs it. After some hesitation, Joker shoots her. The Marines congratulate him on his kill as Joker stares into the distance. The Marines march toward their camp, singing the “Mickey Mouse March”. Joker states in narration that despite being “in a world of shit”, he is glad to be alive and is no longer afraid.
- Matthew Modine as Private/Sergeant J. T. “Joker” Davis, a wise-cracking young recruit.
- Modine kept a diary on set, which was later adapted into a book in 2005 and eventually an interactive app in 2013.
- Vincent D’Onofrio as Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence, an overweight and slow-minded recruit who is the subject of Hartman’s mockery.
- D’Onofrio heard of the auditions for the film from Modine. Using a rented video camera and dressed in army fatigues, D’Onofrio recorded his audition.
- Despite Kubrick’s saying that Pyle was “the hardest part to cast in the whole movie”, he quickly responded to D’Onofrio, telling the actor that he had won the part.
- D’Onofrio was required to gain 70 pounds (32 kg).
- Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a harsh and vulgar Parris Island drill instructor.
- Ermey served as a US Marine drill instructor during the Vietnam War and used this experience to ad lib much of his dialogue.
- Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother, a combat-hungry machine gunner who takes pride in killing enemy soldiers.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger was first considered for the role, but he turned it down in favour of The Running Man.
- Arliss Howard as Private/Sergeant Cowboy, member of the Lusthog Squad and friend of Joker.
- Kevyn Major Howard as Rafterman, combat photographer.
- Dorian Harewood as Eightball, a member of the squad.
- Tim Colceri as Doorgunner, a ruthless helicopter door gunner who suggests that Joker and Rafterman write a story about him.
- Colceri, a former Marine, was originally slated to play Hartman, a role which ultimately fell to Ermey.
- Kubrick instead gave him a smaller role as a helicopter door gunner.
- Additional characters include:
- Ed O’Ross as Lieutenant Walter J. “Touchdown” Schinoski, the first platoon leader of the Lusthog Squad.
- John Terry as Lieutenant Lockhart, the editor of Stars and Stripes.
- Bruce Boa as Poge Colonel, the colonel who dresses down Joker for wearing a peace symbol on his lapel.
- Stanley Kubrick and his daughter Vivian make uncredited appearances as two photographers at a Vietnam massacre site.
- The film’s title refers to the full metal jacket bullet used by military servicemen.
- Kubrick shot the film in England: in Cambridgeshire, on the Norfolk Broads, and at the former Millennium Mills, Beckton Gas Works, Newham (east London) and the Isle of Dogs.
- A former Royal Air Force station and then British Army base, Bassingbourn Barracks doubled as the Parris Island Marine boot camp.
- A British Army rifle range near Barton, outside Cambridge, was used in the scene where Hartman congratulates Private Pyle for his shooting skills.
- Kubrick worked from still photographs of Huế, taken in 1968, and found an area owned by British Gas that closely resembled it and was scheduled to be demolished.
- Kubrick acquired four M41 tanks from a Belgian army colonel who was an admirer of the director’s work, and Westland Wessex helicopters painted Marine green to represent Marine Corps Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw helicopters.
- At one point during filming, Ermey had a car accident, broke all of his ribs on one side, and was out for four-and-a-half months.
- Full Metal Jacket received critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Kubrick, Herr, and Hasford.
- In 2001, the American Film Institute placed it at No. 95 in their “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills” poll.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Stanley Kubrick.
- Producer(s): Stanley kubrick.
- Writer(s): Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford.
- Music: Abigail Mead.
- Cinematography: Douglas Milsome.
- Editor(s): Martin Hunter.
- Production: Natant and Harrier Films.
- Distributor(s): Warner Bros. (US) and Columbia-Cannon-Warner (UK).
- Release Date: 17 June 1987 (Beverly Hills), 26 June 1987 (US), and 11 September 1987 (UK).
- Running time: 116 minutes.
- Country: UK and US.
- Language: English.