Director: Francis Coppola Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro
Drawing from war correspondent Michael Herr’s dispatches and Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, John Milius adapted the story of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, changing its setting from late nineteenth-century Congo to the Vietnam War. The plot revolves around two US Army special operations officers Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard is sent to assassinate the rogue and insane Kurtz in what becomes a nightmarish journey into the darkness of war and the monsters who inhabit it. The film is also notable as one of cinema’s most troubled productions (as documented in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse) with sets destroyed by severe weather, Sheen having a near fatal heart attack and the release being postponed while Coppola edited thousands of feet of film. Apocalypse Now received mixed reviews on release and while Brando’s bravura turn (much of it improvised) threatened to unbalance the film, (and he arrived on set overweight and unprepared), the brilliant direction of Coppola, inspired writing by Milius and Vittorio Storaro’s acclaimed cinematography has seen it reevaluated to now be considered one of the greatest films ever made.
Buy or Rent (watch online)
Final Cut [Blu-ray]
2-Film Set [Blu-ray]
Apocalypse Now: Redux/ Hamburger Hill – Double Feature [DVD]
Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection (Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux/One From the Heart/Tetro/The Conversation) [Blu-ray]
Apocalypse Now Full Disclosure Edition – Apocalypse Now / Apocalypse Now: Redux / Hearts of Darkness (Blu-ray)
- No. 5 on The Pendragon Society’s 1000 Greatest Films of All-Time (2019)
- No. 6 on Sight and Sound Directors Poll Top 100 Films (2012)
- No. 1 on The London Film Critics’ Circle Best Films of the Past Three Decades (2009)
- No. 1 on Sight & Sound’s best films of the last 25 years (2002)
No. 1 on Blockbuster UK’s Best speeches in cinema history (2004) for “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”#
- Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, a veteran U.S. Army special operations officer who has been serving in Vietnam for three years. The soldier who escorts him at the start of the film recites that Willard is from 505th Battalion, of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, assigned to MACV-SOG. It is later stated in the briefing scene that he worked intelligence/counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency, carrying out secret operations and assassinations. Both scenes also establish he worked COMSEC. An attempt to re-integrate into home-front society had apparently failed prior to the time at which the film is set (in 1969), and so he returns to the war-torn jungles of Vietnam, where he seems to feel more at home.
- Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a highly decorated U.S. Army Special Forces officer with the 5th Special Forces Group who goes rogue. He runs his own military unit out of Cambodia and is feared as much by the US military as by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Kilgore, 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment commander and surfing fanatic. Kilgore is a strong-willed leader who loves his men but has methods that appear out-of-tune with the setting of the war. His character is a composite of several characters including Colonel John B. Stockton, General James F. Hollingsworth (featured in The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong by Nicholas Tomalin), and George Patton IV, also a West Point officer whom Robert Duvall knew.
- Frederic Forrest as Engineman 3rd Class Jay “Chef” Hicks, a tightly wound former chef from New Orleans who is horrified by his surroundings.
- Albert Hall as Chief Petty Officer George Phillips. The Chief runs a tight ship and frequently clashes with Willard over authority. Has a father-son relationship with Clean.
- Sam Bottoms as Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Lance B. Johnson, a former professional surfer from California. He is known to drop acid. He becomes entranced by the Montagnard tribe, even participating in the sacrifice ritual.
- Laurence Fishburne (credited as Larry Fishburne) as Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Tyrone “Mr. Clean/Clean” Miller, the seventeen-year-old cocky South Bronx-born crewmember.
Dennis Hopper as an American photojournalist, a manic disciple of Kurtz who greets Willard. According to the DVD commentary of Redux, the character is based on Sean Flynn, a famed news correspondent who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970. His dialogue follows that of the Russian “harlequin” in Conrad’s story.
- G. D. Spradlin as Lieutenant General Corman, military intelligence (G-2), an authoritarian officer who fears Kurtz and wants him removed. The character is named after filmmaker Roger Corman.
- Jerry Ziesmer as a mysterious man (who is coincidentally addressed by General Corman as ‘Jerry’; document visible on the Blu-ray version mentions a CIA officer named R.E. Moore) in civilian attire who sits in on Willard’s initial briefing. His only line in the film is the famous “terminate with extreme prejudice“. Ziesmer also served as the film’s assistant director.
- Harrison Ford as Colonel G. Lucas, aide to Corman and a general information specialist who gives Willard his orders. The character’s name is a reference to George Lucas, who was involved in the script’s early development with Milius and was originally intended to direct the film. Ford also portrayed Han Solo in Lucas’s Star Wars, and prior to that had appeared in Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973, produced by Coppola and Gary Kurtz) and Coppola’s The Conversation (1974).
- Scott Glenn as Captain Richard M. Colby, previously assigned Willard’s current mission before he defected to Kurtz’s private army and sent a message to his wife, intercepted by the Army, telling her he was never coming back and to sell everything they owned, including their children.
- Bill Graham as Agent (announcer and in charge of the Playmates’ show)
- Cynthia Wood (Playmate of the Year)
- Linda (Beatty) Carpenter (August 1976 Playmate) as Playmate “Miss August”
- Colleen Camp as Playmate “Miss May”
- R. Lee Ermey (uncredited) as Helicopter Pilot
- Francis Ford Coppola (cameo) as a TV news director filming beach combat; he shouts “Don’t look at the camera, keep on fighting!” Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro plays the cameraman by Coppola’s side.
- Charlie Sheen (uncredited) as Extra
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Francis Coppola
Written by John Milius, Francis Coppola, Narration: Michael Herr
Music by Carmine Coppola, Francis Coppola
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Edited by Richard Marks, Walter Murch, Gerald B. Greenberg, Lisa Fruchtman
Running time 153 minutes
Country United States