A Yale dropout who worked as a teacher in Saigon and later as a merchant seaman, Oliver Stone volunteered for infantry service during the Vietnam War. He was wounded in combat and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. After the war, he studied filmmaking at New York University, where one of his instructors was Martin Scorsese, and eventually made his mark as a screenwriter, most notably on Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978), for which he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. These were the raw materials that went into the making of Platoon, Stone's fourth feature film and the one that elevated him to the first rank of filmmakers. Working from his own script, he told the story of the common American foot soldier in Vietnam, avoiding the larger geopolitical issues of the conflict to focus on what life was like for the war's hundreds of thousands of young "grunts." The film seesaws between the tedium of camp life's daily routine and the shock of sudden, vicious combat, and no other filmmaker has ever captured so viscerally the stark terror of such warfare. Platoon is often melodramatic, even pretentious—occasional traits of this filmmaker—yet here Stone earns the right to such extremes. Whatever the film may lack in narrative polish or psychological subtlety, it conveys the emotional truth of combat itself. It is a generous and openhearted film, one in which Stone keeps faith with his former comrades–in–arms by explaining without ever excusing, by forgiving without forgetting.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 299.