My Top Ten non-horror films #4

4 – APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

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Is it ambition or is it excess or is it insanity? Perhaps the last truly epic film, the making of which is as fascinating as the feature itself. It’s film that begs to be seen on a big screen with the sound ramped up. It’s trippy and frightening, and it recreates the hell of the Vietnam war so vividly you might almost believe you were watching some weird kind of documentary. Coppola experienced his own war throughout on a shoot that was meant to take six weeks and ballooned to sixteen months; he was rewriting scenes on the lam, had fired Harvey Keitel and saw his replacement, Martin Sheen, promptly suffer a heart attack. The helicopters they were borrowing from the Philippine government kept being recalled. And to top it off, Marlon Brando arrived on set grossly overweight – not the wiry ex-Green Beret that had been envisaged – having failed to learn his lines.

Nevertheless, it’s rammed with fantastic performances (Robert Duvall’s Kilgore and Dennis Hopper’s frantic photojournalist both stand-out) and memorable set pieces. The growing sense of dread as the gunship Erebus pushes deeper into the heart of darkness is palpable. Brando, wreathed in shadow and spouting random lines of improvised dialogue, is wildly OTT, but you cannot take your eyes off him.

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