Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

A fascinating documentary film on “Apocalypse Now” exploring how the film’s production mirrored its thematic concerns with madness, aimlessness, ambition, overreach, arrogance, and psychological descent.

Coppola is very sincere throughout, with his 1990s interview portions often illuminating, and his 1970s production excerpts often depressing. It made for a very strong film, but the excess and madness of the production certainly didn’t do wonders for the mental health of everyone involved, least of all Coppola.

For all the conceptual merits of the film, it doesn’t always make for great viewing. It’s repetitive, and over-reliant on cinematically unengaging talking heads segments. Many of the most interesting elements of the production are glossed over in favour of saying the same thing three times over. It also indulges in playing footage from “Apocalypse Now” itself too much, padding the runtime and distracting from the unique draw of the documentary.

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Martin Sheen talks of how he “was in a chaotic spiritual state inside. I fought him like a tiger. It was real hard for me to reveal myself”, and one gets the sense Coppola was sorting through a similar complicated internal journey in his making of the film.

Another talking head segment has Sheen tell of how he asked Coppola to clarify the character of Willard, who Sheen was struggling getting into the mindset of, only to be told by Coppola that “He’s you. Whoever you are. Whatever we’re filming at the time, you are that character”. This documentary gives the sense that the entire production functioned similarly, very much fulfilling Coppola’s opening statement that the film wasn’t a film about Vietnam – rather, it was Vietnam. I give it three and a half helicopters, and a destroyed set.

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