peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2022 07 11 GardensOfStone

Gardens of Stone (1987)

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Some more James Caan completism. He struck me as miscast, perhaps because he was capable of a lot more than Francis (Ford) Coppola asked of him here. Joining him were James Earl Jones (whose mirth we sometimes share) and Anjelica Houston (whose performance I enjoyed the most despite it being substantially just exposition). We get Coppola's usual big set pieces (specifically a wedding and several funerals) but there is nothing very interesting about this particular story, which I put down to "the boy" D.B. Sweeney's vapidity. Despite its length I felt there were continuity issues, several bridges too few. It was overshadowed by all the other contemporary pictures that ruefully reviewed the U.S. war in Việt Nam, such as Full Metal Jacket (compare the boot camp scenes for instance — the stroppy sergeants — and how the usually reliable Larry Fishburne brings nothing to those here). There is an element of self-parody when Jones replays Martin Sheen's big scene from the end of Apocalypse Now. I think Coppola was trying to show the shift in mood from the shock-and-awe of the 1970s to the knowing hindsight of the 1980s.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars too many. He was wrong to claim that Caan's and Jones's characters "believe the war in Vietnam is stupid because the politicians are hamstringing the professionals, preventing them from fighting to win" — they are centrally concerned with the survival of their "family", i.e., members of the U.S. Army ("us and those like us"). Vincent Canby, similarly but more accurately: Caan's character opposes the war "without a front, with nothing to win and no way to win it." And yeah, why did Coppola direct this?