After more than a decade of films that examined the war in Vietnam from many different angles, Francis Ford Coppola concentrated not on the heroics, battles or camaraderie of war, but simply on the burial of the dead. From the vantage point of Arlington National Cemetery, with its somber
landscape of white crosses, war appears most senseless.
Sergeant Clell Hazard (James Caan) is a military man through and through, a hard-bitten veteran who, in 1968, hates the Vietnam War but loves the service. His job is to oversee the men assigned to the Old Guard at Arlington, that elite corps of soldiers who stand watch over the Tomb of the Unknown
Soldier, escort the many bodies to their final resting places, and engage in various drill exercises as a public relations function for the government. Assigned to Hazard's unit is Private Jackie Willow (D.B. Sweeney), the son of a veteran who had been Hazard's pal. A gung-ho soldier, Jackie wants
desperately to get into battle. Jackie grows close to a number of people at Arlington, including surrogate father Hazard; Hazard's girlfriend, Samantha (Anjelica Huston); and Rachel (Mary Stuart Masterson), the young woman with whom he falls in love. Nevertheless, Jackie's fatal desire is to serve
his country in Vietnam.
Unjustly underrated upon its release, GARDENS OF STONE is a quiet, respectful film filled with emotional power, exceptional acting (especially by Caan), and technical virtuosity. Coppola was directing from the heart on this one: his son Giancarlo died in a boating accident during production. The
film is dedicated to the Third US Infantry. leave a comment