It's 1967, and a plane full of new soldiers has just arrived in Vietnam. Among them is Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who's about as green as they come. He and the other newbies pass by a group of battle-hardened veterans before being shepherded elsewhere. Early in his tour, Taylor is running point (the guy who goes first in a patrol) and passes out. Elias (Willem Dafoe) helps him recuperate, telling him that he's carrying too much junk in his pack for the kind of patrol they're doing.
Sometime after this first romp through the jungle, Barnes (Tom Berenger), Elias, Wolfe (Mark Moses), and a few other sergeants are convening: Elias' squad must go on night patrol. O'Neill (John C. McGinley) thinks he's won a victory but he's ordered to go as well. During the night ambush patrol, Taylor stands guard. After the end of his shift, he wakes Junior, who falls asleep instead of manning his post. Taylor wakes up later, notices Junior isn't paying attention, and watches NVA troops approach. A firefight ensues, one guy is killed, and Taylor is unable at first to use his Claymore because he's failed to turn the safety off. He is wounded and thinks he's dying, but it's only a flesh wound. Barnes warns them about falling asleep on watch.
A few days later, Taylor returns to camp, a bandage on his neck, and works latrine duty with King (Keith David) and Crawford (Chris Pedersen) before heading into the Underground to smoke pot and get drunk. Elsewhere, Barnes, O'Neill, Bunny (Kevin Dillon), and others hang out in the barracks (they are not part of the "pothead" group).
A few months later (New Year's Day, 1968), the platoon goes on patrol again, this time during the day. Taylor is running point and calls a halt because he senses something. Barnes notices it too, and points out that it's a bunker. NVA troops have just left the area, and the platoon fans out to inspect the surroundings. Elias investigates the interior of the bunker complex. Outside, two guys inspecting a cache of maps are blown up. There are booby traps all over the place. Meanwhile, Manny (Corkey Ford) has wandered off and is nowhere to be found.
Soon, the platoon finds Manny—mutilated and tied to a tree. Barnes is enraged, as are the others. The platoon enters a nearby village, discovers a cache of weapons, and wreaks havoc. Bunny kills a one-legged villager, and Barnes kills the village chief's wife. He's about to kill the village chief's daughter before Elias stops him and attacks him. Wolfe, who is nominally in charge, pretends not to have seen anything. The soldiers burn the village and leave.
Back at camp, Wolfe and Elias are speaking with Captain Harris (Dale Dye). Elias plans to file a report. Harris warns them that there will be a court martial if there was an illegal killing. The platoon is now divided, a fact clearly evident in the support and comments Barnes receives from O'Neill, Bunny, and others.
The next day, the platoon is sent back to the bunker complex to investigate further. They are quickly ambushed, and a chaotic firefight ensues. The incompetent Lieutenant Wolfe calls in the wrong coordinates for an air strike, some guys almost bite the dust, and Barnes is livid. Elias understands how the NVA army plans to crush them, and he takes a small group of guys to try a flanking maneuver. The group halts the enemy advance, and returns to the rear but without Elias.
Barnes, sensing an opportunity, goes back into the jungle, and eventually runs into Elias, whom he murders—or so he thinks. Meanwhile, Taylor, a bit anxious about Elias, goes back into the jungle looking for him. He runs into Barnes, who tells him Elias is dead and that he needs to get back to the rear. Taylor is suspicious. As the troops are being evacuated, Elias emerges from the trees, wounded, but not dead. Barnes watches Elias try to escape with unusual interest. Taylor notices, and realizes that Barnes had killed Elias. Barnes, however, has nothing to worry about as Elias is quickly dispatched by NVA troops.
Back at camp, Taylor is in the underground (nicknamed the "Underworld") drug den with Rhah (Francesco Quinn) and others. He says he knows Barnes killed Elias, and suggests they "frag" him. The others are skeptical, especially Rhah, for whom Barnes is a strange, immortal anomaly ("Barnes ain't meant to die"). Barnes comes in, having overheard some of their conversation, and gives them a lecture about what's necessary for the smooth running of a military machine. He knows he's in hostile territory, and he dares the guys to kill him. At first nobody responds, but when he's about to leave Taylor attacks him. Barnes gains the upper hand, pulls a knife, and seems ready to kill him. Rhah talks him out of it, and Barnes just cuts Taylor's eye.
Shortly thereafter, the men return to the area where Elias was shot. They suspect that an entire NVA division is nearby, and they know a big fight is coming. The men prepare their foxholes, and Taylor suggests to King that he's made a big mistake.
Later that night, NVA troops attack. Taylor is able to fend some of them off, but eventually must abandon his foxhole before it's blown up. Eventually, the entire perimeter is overrun, and many of the platoon's members are killed in the chaos (Wolfe, Bunny, and Junior are among them). O'Neill hides under some dead bodies to try to save his own skin.
Barnes is annihilating enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand combat when Taylor finds him. Barnes tries to kill Taylor, but an air strike knocks them both unconscious. The following morning, Taylor stumbles over to where Barnes an almost killed him, grabbing an enemy weapon on the way. Barnes dares him to shoot him ("Do it," he says), and Taylor obliges. Short thereafter, Taylor is put on a helicopter and sent home (this being his second wound), a young man forever changed and forever haunted by the war.
- A black screen.
- A quote appears: "Rejoice O young man in thy youth…." The screen tells us the quote is from Ecclesiastes 11:19.
- We knew going in that this was a war film. Sounds like this quote is here to reiterate the fact that life is precious, and you should enjoy your youth while you have it.
- The main theme of the film starts playing, and the scene opens on a very dusty airfield. We see a United States Air Force plane taxing as the film's stars are named.
- The back of the plane opens. A group of young men exit. Chris Taylor is among them.
- The scene shifts to a small cart with body bags on it. Two guys unload them.
- The new guys are shocked.
- A guy comes over and welcomes them to "the Nam," and orders them to follow him.
- Another group of guys walk by. They're haggard and burned out, and they make some cracks to the new guys.
- The last guy in the group looks pretty bad—dirty, emaciated, done with life. He and Chris keep looking at each other.
- We're flying over the jungle. A message pops up on the screen to give us some direction: "September 1967—Bravo Company, 25th Infantry somewhere near the Cambodian borders."
- The scene shifts and the camera is on the jungle floor, looking up at the sunlight filtering through the canopy.
- A group of soldiers is making their way through the jungle. We can hear scattered radio communications.
- Chris sees a snake, and warily dodges it. We also see Sgt. Elias, and what appears to be Sgt. Barnes' helmet.
- The guys are hacking their way through very dense jungle. Soon they come across a decayed and long-dead Vietnamese soldier.
- Taylor is having a hard time adapting to the heat of the jungle. The dead guy is the last straw, and he throws up.
- Barnes has no patience for this. He gives Taylor a hard time and then calls for a doc and new guy to run point (the front of the line).
- Taylor has ants all over his neck. Elias comes over to help him too. He tells Taylor he's carrying too much stuff.
- He and the doctor help him to his feet, but he promptly falls back down, drenched in sweat.
- A helicopter is flying, approaching the edge of a cliff or ridge. The same group of guys as before is clearing a landing zone (LZ).
- The helicopter lands, and a bunch run over and help unload some boxes. It's dusty, dry, and hot.
- The scene shifts and we see the soldiers going about their business: one shaves, another sets a booby trap, two African American guys joke around.
- Taylor is digging a foxhole, and starts narrating: "That's what this place feels like, Hell," he says.
- He continues narrating, telling us that the experienced soldiers don't care for the new guys. They don't want to even know their names. It also sounds like Taylor may have voluntarily signed up to go to Vietnam.
- Barnes and O'Neill approach. Elias, Warren, and Lt. Wolfe are already there.
- Barnes informs that there was an incident a few clicks north. O'Neill elaborates. A patrol needs to go out that night on "ambush."
- Time out: wanna know what night ambush patrol was really like? Look no further.
- Barnes orders Elias' squad to go. A few guys from Warren's squad will go as well.
- Elias is really irritated. It's technically O'Neill's turn, but O'Neill will have none of it. The new guys—the "fresh meat"—are in Elias' squad.
- Barnes reiterates his orders, and then—surprise—tells O'Neill that he has to go with Elias. O'Neill is not happy about it.
- The group breaks up, and Wolfe runs after Barnes. He says that in front of the men he needs to give the orders. He's the boss.
- Barnes looks at him long and hard, and then says "yes sir." We don't believe him for a second.
- Wolfe is a lieutenant, a commissioned officer. Barnes is a sergeant, a.k.a. an enlisted guy. Wolfe outranks him no matter what.
- Clearly, however, Wolfe is a little weak-willed, and these are Barnes' guys.
- He's the alpha.
- It's dusk, and the guys are getting ready to move out on patrol. One guy is really annoyed—his squad always has to go on ambush.
- The guys gripe about the politics of the situation a bit. Gardner shows Taylor a picture of his girlfriend back home.
- Elias comes over, and tells them what they need and don't know to go on ambush. Soon, Barnes hollers out, and the guys move out into the jungle as it starts to storm.
- It's nighttime in the jungle, and it's raining. The troops walk by an old statue. Taylor starts narrating again, talking about his reasons for coming to Vietnam.
- He wanted to serve his country, just like his grandfather did in the First World War, his dad in the Second.
- He doesn't want to become like his parents, doesn't want their life.
- He describes the guys in Vietnam with him. They are at the "bottom of the barrel." They're unwanted. They come from towns nobody's ever heard of. They're grunts.
- The camera pans across the faces of the different guys on patrol, sitting in the rain.
- Soon, Tex (David Neidorf) crawls through the rain to Taylor. It's his (Taylor's) turn to be on lookout.
- He makes sure Taylor knows how to work the Claymores, and he warns him not to fall asleep.
- After a while, Taylor checks his watch. It's Junior's (Reggie Johnson) shift. Taylor wakes him and tells him so before going to sleep.
- Junior, already groggy, falls asleep during his watch.
- Later in the night Taylor bolts up in the middle of the night, and notices that Junior's no longer awake. Uh oh.
- Taylor watches through a gap in the trees. After a short while, he sees an enemy soldier's silhouette appear. Soon, others follow.
- Taylor's weapons are out of reach. Just as the enemy is upon him, several mines explode, and the jungle erupts into a gunfight.
- In the chaos, Taylor is able to get to his Claymores, but he can't get it working. Another soldier screams at him to turn the safety off (which he had been told to do earlier).
- O'Neill throws a grenade, and what's left of the enemy retreats.
- Tex has been hit, and won't stop screaming. Gardner (Bob Orwig) has also been hit, and so has Taylor.
- One of the guys is yelling at Taylor, accusing him of falling asleep on his shift.
- Barnes goes over to Tex, covers his mouth, and yells at him to "take the pain." Tex quiets down.
- Elias, Barnes, and a few others are searching the area near the camp. Barnes finds a dying enemy soldier and dispatches him.
- Big Harold (Forest Whitaker) is comforting Taylor, who is convinced he's going to die. Big Harold tells him about what is awaiting him in the hospital (good meals, pretty nurses).
- The guys are trying to save Gardner, who is close to death. They try to get his heart started, but it's no use: he dies.
- The camera scans the faces of the guys, who all quietly look around.
- Barnes is unhappy, and gives them a pep talk about screwing up in a firefight: "Y'all take a good look at this lump of shit. Remember what it looks like."
- He scolds Junior and Taylor about falling asleep on ambush. Barnes will take a personal interest in making sure the next guy who screws up suffers.
- Taylor says he didn't fall asleep. O'Neill isn't buying, and neither is Bunny (Kevin Dillon).
- Elias comes up, and orders them to get moving. While leaving, he makes a comment to Barnes about how Gardner would be alive if he had had a few more days to learn something before going out on ambush.
- Daytime. A helicopter is leaving a camp.
- A jeep approaches, and drops Taylor off. He has a bandage on his neck.
- He bumps into King (Keith David), who is carrying a huge box of Budweiser beer. O'Neill approaches, and puts the guys on latrine duty. The guys are annoyed about it, and blame army politics for it (O'Neill has been buttering up the lieutenant).
- King asks Taylor how he ended up in Vietnam. Taylor tells them he volunteered: he wasn't learning much in college, and he didn't think it was fair for poor kids to always have to suffer and for the rich kids to "get away" with it.
- King and Crawford (Chris Pedersen), who is always on duty with them, can't believe it. The guys continue working, into the early evening.
- Once the sun has set, King and Taylor go into a tent.
- Taylor and King are inside a large tent that is dug into the ground, or the side of a hill. It's dimly lit with lots of candles and Christmas lights. The guys are smoking and drinking.
- The camera pans to Elias, who is eating a banana in a hammock with a huge grin on his face. He waves.
- One of the guys hands Taylor a huge pipe that, presumably, contains marijuana. He takes a huge puff, and starts coughing. The guys laugh.
- A group of guys sitting down pass a joint around, and banter.
- Taylor starts to feel different, and he's clearly stoned. Elias approaches and asks him if this is first time (smoking pot).
- Taylor tells him it is, and Elias smiles. He asks him if he feels good? Another affirmative.
- Elias cocks a rifle, points it at Taylor, and tells him to put the barrel in his mouth.
- Elias takes a drag of his joint, blows into the chamber of the rifle. Taylor inhales it from the other end.
- He gets higher as a result.
- The scene shifts and Bunny is looking out the window of more spacious tent. He makes some derisive comments about the other guys getting high to Junior.
- Bunny comments on the music, as does Junior. The conversation then turns to marijuana as Bunny cracks open another beer.
- Junior claims that "y'all," by which he means white people, are trying to get black people strung out on weed so they can keep him down.
- Bunny listens, and then chimes in with his own comments about the effects of marijuana. The conversation then turns to rumors about the enemy putting chemicals in the grass in Vietnam to make the soldiers not want to fight.
- Bunny and Junior talk about girls, and Junior joking tells Bunny the only way he'll get a girl if someone with a girlfriend dies and their girlfriend is willed to him.
- Lieutenant Wolfe enters. Bunny greets him by showing him he can literally bite a chunk out of his empty beer can.
- Wolfe greets the other guys, each of whom are doing their own thing.
- Barnes, O'Neill and some other guys are playing a poker game. Wolfe visits for a few minutes, before continuing his rounds.
- As he leaves, O'Neill remarks, "That is one sorry ass motherfucker."
- Back in the other tent, Motown music is playing as the guys continue to smoke pot, dance, drink, and sing.
- The camera turns upward as the scene fades out.
- It's daylight in the jungle. Writing on the screen tells us it's New Year's Day, 1968, as does Taylor's voice.
- He gives us an update about what's been happening over the last few months: lots of small skirmishes, lots of bombs dropped, followed by lots of walks through the jungle.
- Taylor is on point (i.e. in the lead). He hears something, pauses, and turns back to look at Barnes.
- Barnes pauses, comes closer, and then says "Bunker." Taylor asks him where.
- The camera shifts to an angle inside the bunker, looking out. The guys cautiously approach and fan out, examining the area near the bunker.
- Clothes are hanging, and fires are still smoking so the enemy has only recently departed.
- Elias climbs in, and then drops down a few feet into a tunnel to investigate further. Soon, he's wading through water before ending up in a dimly let bedroom, complete with a bed, sheets, and… a dead body? Yep. Elias keeps going.
- Meanwhile up above, the guys are poking around, on alert. Tensions are high.
- Elias stumbles on a command room of some kind, sees an enemy soldier, and shoots him with his pistol.
- Sal and another guy are checking out some documents they've found in one of the huts nearby.
- The camera pans away for a few minutes to focus on the other guys when suddenly an explosion erupts: one of the guys looking at the maps emerges, and quickly falls over, dead.
- Wolfe gets on the radio and calls for backup. Elias comes out, tells them to get out of there. There are booby-traps all over, and they need engineers.
- Wolfe says they're on their way, but in the meantime they need to head out. NVA soldiers have been spotted nearby.
- Barnes is sitting by himself, smoking. He's in a strange mood. Taylor is staring at him. Barnes stares back, and says nothing.
- The troops get ready to move out, but can't find Manny (Corky Ford). Elias and a few goes go looking for him. All that can be heard are the sounds of the jungle.
- The troops are on the move, and Taylor's narrating again. It was King who found him, he says.
- Found who? Manny. The camera shows the soldiers standing near a small river or creek, silently watching something.
- Soon, we see what it is: Manny's body, tied to a tree and mutilated. The camera zooms in on Barnes' face.
- He's irate, calling the enemy "motherfuckers."
- The troops approach a village, and Taylor hints that something bad is about to happen: "They didn't know we were coming, but if they had, they would have run."
- An old Vietnamese man is watching them approach, a cigarette in his mouth. A troop shouts out, Barnes turns around, and sees a Vietnamese guy fleeing.
- He fires several shots, killing him.
- The men enter the village and start rounding up the citizens, aggressively herding them like cattle. Bunny kills one of their pigs.
- It only gets worse from here. Barnes is on a rampage. He finds an underground shelter, and screams at everybody to get out before dropping a grenade in.
- The citizens scream and yell in Vietnamese.
- Inside one of the huts, Taylor finds an underground shelter. He screams and swears at the people hiding in there to come out. The first one is a boy.
- Bunny comes in, a twisted grin on his face.
- The second one to emerge from the hole is an old woman, who comes out saying things in Vietnamese.
- The soldiers outside meanwhile have discovered a huge cache of weapons, and a lot of rice—enough to feed a large enemy force.
- Back inside the hut, Taylor is yelling at the Vietnamese boy, asking him why he's smiling, what he thinks is so funny.
- His shouting escalates, and he starts firing his gun into the ground, screaming "Dance motherfucker, dance motherfucker!"
- Bunny is egging him on, encouraging him to kill the kid. Taylor gets really close, firing more and more shots.
- Finally, he's spent, and he turns to leave. O'Neill has been watching too.
- Bunny calls him a "pussy," and he steps in and starts doing his own taunting. O'Neill, who can sense something bad is about to happen, encourages Bunny to forget him and leave.
- Bunny turns to go, but then suddenly turns around and hits the kid, knocking him to the ground.
- He approaches, and starts hitting the kid in the face with the butt of his rifle. Blood splatters on his and Taylor's faces.
- He then smiles and says, "Holy shit you see that fucking head come apart man?" O'Neill has the look of lost innocence on his face. In fact, he looks like he's about to cry.
- The woman—either the boy's grandma or mother—looks like she's dead. She's in shock after the horror that has just unfolded
- Bunny wants to finish it off, but O'Neill is telling them to leave and to say that nobody saw anything.
- Back outside, an old man is led towards Barnes.
- Barnes asks him questions, and Lerner (Johnny Depp) translates.
- The guy swears that they're not NVA or VC sympathizers, and that they have no choice but to hide weapons when the NVA demands it.
- It's hide the weapons, or die, he suggests.
- Barnes isn't buying it, and he has Lerner continue to ask questions about the arms and the rice.
- A woman runs up, and starts screaming. Barnes takes off his helmet, swears, and walks the other direction.
- He stops, watches the woman and the man argue in Vietnamese for a while. The man is trying to restrain her.
- Finally, Barnes walks forward, takes aim, and shoots her. A kid starts crying.
- The old man falls to his knees, and starts sobbing and saying things over the dead body of his wife.
- Barnes yells at Lerner, and tells him to tell the man that he plans on killing more people until he gets some answers.
- Barnes grabs a little girl, and points a pistol at her head. Lots of people are screaming.
- Suddenly, Elias appears. He walks up to Barnes: "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he asks.
- Barnes tells him to stay out of it. Elias approaches and then tells Barnes: "You ain't a firing squad you piece of shit," before hitting him in the face with the butt of his rifle.
- He then jumps on Barnes, and starts pummeling him in the face. The two grapple for a while before Wolfe and the other guys break it up.
- Wolfe screams at them, and says the Captain has ordered them to torch the village. All weapons are to be burned, and any suspected VC rounded up.
- Barber's "Adagio for Strings," the film's unofficial theme, starts playing as the guys set fire to the village.
- Taylor is clearly changing. He seems tired, disgusted, and unhappy as he walks away from the flames.
- About 100 feet from the flames, he comes across a few of the guys raping one of the little girls from the village.
- He steps in and forces Morehouse (Kevin Eshelman) off the girl, and starts yelling at the guys.
- Bunny asks him if he's a homosexual, and the other guys aren't too happy either. Taylor yells at them, and reminds them that she's a human being.
- One of the guys spits on him.
- As he's walking away with the girl, he notices Elias looking on, standing next to a huge water buffalo of some kind.
- Elias orders them to get out of there, clearly unhappy.
- The Vietnamese are rounded up, and marched off. Some of the soldiers carry the little kids.
- As the group marches away, the village burns behind them. A loud explosion rings out as the scene fades.
- The troops are gathering around what looks to be like a large, makeshift encampment. Other soldiers are getting it ready to house more troops.
- Elias and Wolfe are quickly walking next to a higher-ranking officer.
- Elias plans to file a report about Barnes' shooting and include Wolfe as a witness. Wolfe says he didn't see anything.
- The senior officer tells Barnes to stop. Barnes stops. The Captain (we know he's a captain because Barnes calls him "Dai wee," which is Vietnamese for captain) tells them that there will be a court martial if there was an illegal shooting.
- Right now, they have other problems to worry about. The troops will re-enter the bunker complex they discovered.
- Elias and Barnes go their separate ways, but not without glaring at each other.
- The camera shifts to the African American contingent. King, Junior, and others are gathering wood.
- Junior thinks the white guys don't care about any of them. He's convinced Barnes would have killed anybody in his way, and that Bunny is absolutely nuts.
- Warren chimes in: Barnes has led them this far, and he knows what he's doing. Warren is positive the villagers were all NVA.
- Junior is skeptical. He says things have gotten way out of hand. Big Harold says he's hurting inside.
- Meanwhile, Wolfe is walking with Barnes. He tells Barnes that Elias won't be able to prove anything and that he's just a troublemaker.
- Barnes says Elias is just like the politicians back in Washington, "trying to fight this war with one hand tied around their balls."
- Barnes meets up with O'Neill and Bunny. They're on Barnes' side. Bunny starts talking smack about Elias, and suggests that somebody should "frag his ass."
- That's slang for killing an officer, and it was a real problem in Vietnam.
- Barnes' interest almost seems piqued as he continues smoking his cigarette.
- O'Neill asks him some questions. Bunny shuts him up, saying the sergeant will take care of things.
- It's nighttime. The camera is on the ground, looking up at the stars. Taylor says it's a beautiful night. Elias replies that he loves "this place at night."
- They chat for a while. Elias says he used to believe in what they're doing. Not anymore.
- He feels the United States is gonna lose the war. The U.S. has been successful for so long, it's just time they lose a war.
- In an aerial view of the men walking across the river, we can tell that it's sunny, but drizzling.
- "Adagio for Strings" is playing again.
- Taylor narrates. He's struggling to keep his sanity. He doesn't know right from wrong anymore, morale is low, and there's a civil war in the platoon.
- Half of the men are with Barnes, the other half with Elias. Taylor can't believe it: they're fighting each other instead of the enemy.
- A man lifts up some wet brush in the rain: it's a tunnel entrance. The man sticks his gun in briefly, before the camera moves up and shows us that it's Elias.
- The men are milling around until Wolfe orders them all to move out. The guys are walking through the forest. It's quiet.
- Suddenly, fire erupts from a bunker nearby. Lerner is hit. So is Sergeant Warren.
- It's an ambush. The men take cover wherever they can and return fire. Things are blowing up right and left.
- Taylor fires some shoots, and then crawls towards a wounded comrade.
- Barnes comes stalking towards the front of what was the line, yelling about something.
- Wolfe is calling in coordinates for an artillery strike. Elias comes running over to him to tell him that the artillery strike will kill the men.
- He's spotted a clearing nearby and can do some damage to the enemy flank but he needs a few guys.
- Wolfe isn't buying it. Barnes shows up. Elias tells them both that the enemy has them in a crossfire.
- Unless he's given 3 men and allowed to try his plan, they'll get shot to pieces. Barnes okays the plan.
- Elias and Barnes trade insults (Barnes interprets something Elias says as him telling Barnes how to "run" his war).
- Meanwhile, Taylor is shooting at an enemy soldier in a foxhole. During a pause in the shooting, he throws a grenade into the foxhole, killing the enemy.
- He makes his way over to a wounded Lerner.
- Artillery shells start coming in, dangerously close to the guys. Elias was right.
- The guys notice and Big Harold screams out "short rounds" before fleeing. In his flight, he sets off a booby trap and is severely injured.
- Another guy takes shrapnel from the artillery shell. Barnes races to him and removes as much shrapnel as he can.
- The camera then shifts back to Taylor, who's carrying Lerner on his back and screaming for a medic.
- He brings Lerner to a space a ways back from the main fighting. Other wounded soldiers are there.
- Taylor comforts Lerner, before being asked to join Elias on his mission.
- Elias, Taylor, Crawford, and Rhah race into the jungle. Elias tells them what to do, and where to watch for the enemy, before taking off to hit the enemy from a different angle 100 meters away.
- Meanwhile, Barnes stalks over to where Wolfe is on the radio. He takes the headset, and hits Wolfe with it before calling him out on his idiotic artillery mission.
- He then orders the rest of the guys to fall back. He says he will go and find Elias.
- The guys are watching the jungle, silently. Soon, a group of 10-15 enemy soldiers emerge.
- Taylor, Crawford, and Rhah open fire, and the enemy retreats. Crawford is hit. While Taylor and Rhah are attending to him, Barnes shows up.
- He orders them back to the rear, and he says he will go and get Elias. Taylor, Crawford, and Rhah depart.
- Elias is running around in the jungle. The enemy is all around, but unseeable.
- Eventually, Elias comes nearly face to face with them. He shoots two dead and keeps running.
- Barnes is out there, too, and trying to locate the source of the gunshots he's just heard.
- Elias is still running. So is Barnes, and so are the enemy troops.
- Taylor and Rhah have got Crawford back to the rear. After dropping him off, Taylor heads out again.
- Barnes quietly walks through the forest. He can sense something and pauses. He aims his rifle and waits.
- Elias comes into view. They stare at each other, and Barnes momentarily pauses, pulling his head up.
- Elias, at first confused, smiles when he realizes it's Barnes. Then Barnes aims his gun again. The camera shows us a close-up of both mens' eyes.
- Suddenly, Barnes shoots Elias several times, and Elias collapses. Barnes has just "fragged" Elias.
- Taylor is racing through the forest. Suddenly, he runs into Barnes, who tells him to head back. Elias is dead.
- Taylor can't believe it. He seems like he wants more details, but Barnes tells him to get going. There's "gooks" all over the place.
- Something is fishy here, and Taylor's face says it all. He reflects for a minute as the scene ends.
- A helicopter lands as wounded soldiers are being escorted to the landing zone. One on a stretcher looks barely alive, another has a rag wrapped around his eyes.
- Taylor watches the wounded get loaded on a helicopter. The wind generated by the blades blows the cover off a bunch of dead bodies.
- The soldiers start gathering the bodies and loading them into another arriving helicopter.
- Taylor sees Harold, and tells him he's up next. Another helicopter arrives as explosions start going off in the rear.
- "Adagio for Strings" plays again as the soldiers scramble.
- The guys get in the choppers, and take off. As they watch the scene below, they see a huge number of enemy soldiers emerge, chasing a guy: it's Elias.
- Taylor notices, and tells Wolfe and the others. Barnes perks up. Uh oh. Looks like his victim is not so dead after all.
- The camera shifts to the ground, and we're in front of Elias as he runs towards the camera. Enemy soldiers shoot at him from behind, and he collapses.
- He gets up, and tries to keep moving. Meanwhile, the helicopters have started to circle back towards him, and since enemy soldiers are collapsing behind him, the helicopters must be shooting them.
- Elias falls again, and he's on his knees. In a now iconic pose, he throws his hands up at the sky, before falling over dead.
- The music has been building, and now reaches a peak.
- Taylor is watching from the helicopter. He turns and sees Barnes, who has been watching as well, with a suspicious interest.
- The two men glare at each other before Barnes sits back down and looks out the other window.
- The helicopters arrive back at a makeshift base.
- A pipe is being lit. Taylor is completely convinced that Barnes killed Elias. He wants to frag him that night.
- King agrees—"an eye for an eye." Rhah disagrees. He thinks the military should handle it.
- Taylor doesn't think that'll work—Bunny, O'Neill, Wolfe, they won't tell the truth. Rhah, King, and Taylor debate a course of action.
- Rhah says there's a much larger problem than just Elias' death: Taylor and King want to cure the headache by cutting off the head.
- Taylor says no matter what, Barnes is a murderer. He just can't let it stand.
- Irritated, Rhah reminds Taylor that he once admired Barnes. Taylor admits he was wrong.
- Apparently, Barnes has been hit 7 times, and he still isn't dead. Rhah sees this as proof that "Barnes ain't meant to die." The only that can kill Barnes, he says, "is Barnes."
- Suddenly we hear Barnes' voice: "talking about killing?" He's sitting outside the entrance, drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels and smoking. He enters.
- He asks them if they're experts in killing. He'd like to hear about it.
- He picks up a pipe, looks at it, and asks if they smoke pot to escape from reality. He doesn't need to do that because he is reality, he says. Um, okay?
- There's the way things ought to be, and there's the way things are, he continues. Elias was "full of shit," a crusader.
- The implication is that Elias lived and acted according to the way things ought to be—he wasn't in touch with reality.
- Barnes continues by talking about how he has no problems with the guys in there right now, but if guys don't do what they're told, "the machine breaks down."
- If the machine breaks down, they break down. Barnes will not allow that.
- This sure sounds like Barnes' way of justifying all of his previous actions thus far. It also sounds like codswallop.
- He starts moving towards the exit. He knows the guys loved Elias, and he knows they want to fight for him.
- He then challenges them. He's there, all by himself, nobody will know. "Kill me," he says.
- Nobody says or does anything. Barnes seems frustrated: "I shit on you." He starts to leave.
- Taylor jumps up and screams "you motherfucker!" and starts attacking him, slamming Barnes' head into a post.
- A melee ensues. Barnes gets the upper hand, punches Taylor, pushes him down, and pulls a knife on him.
- Rhah talks Barnes into not doing it. He would have to serve 10 years for killing an enlisted man. Wait. That's it?
- Barnes controls his anger, and starts to back off. As he gets up, he quickly cuts Taylor just below the eye.
- Barnes heads for the exit. He pauses, turns around, and says, "Death? What do you all know about death?"
- An aerial shot shows us helicopters flying through a valley. The scenery looks eerily familiar. The music is eerie. Taylor narrates again.
- The guys have been sent into the valley again the next day, very close to the Cambodian border. Taylor feels like they're returning to the scene of a crime.
- Bunny is talking to Taylor but we can't hear over the sound of the helicopter's blades. Barnes is doing something to his fingernails with his knife.
- The camera shows us the landscape below: it's partly destroyed, burnt out, wasted.
- Soon, a familiar landmark appears: the dilapidated church that the guys passed by earlier in the film.
- Charlie Company is being sent as "bait" to lure the enemy out of hiding: "somewhere out there," Taylor tells us, is the entire 141st NVA regiment.
- The helicopter lands, and Taylor and co. disembark.
- The camera pans to several higher-ranking officers having a discussion (Captain Harris is among them).
- Several prisoners are on the ground. One shakes his head, and a soldier slaps him hard and knocks him over.
- Tony (Ivan Kane) and Doc (Paul Sanchez) are working on their foxhole. Tony notes that the prisoners were caught the previous night.
- Tony says the prisoners had detailed information about the location of all the foxholes, all the claymores, distances, tree lines—"everything," he summarizes.
- Doc notes that he's getting "bad vibes" from the place.
- The camera shifts to Rhah. He's approaching Lieutenant Wolfe, who tells him that he's taking over Elias' squad.
- Rhah scoffs: there's barely enough guys to make up an entire squad at this point. Dude has got to be kidding.
- Wolfe tells him to take control of two separate foxholes. They're so far apart, an entire regiment could walk between them and nobody would know.
- Rhah tells Wolfe as much, but Wolfe doesn't want to hear it.
- Rhah says he's only got 5 guys left. Wolfe doesn't care. He doesn't "give a flying fuck" anymore about anything.
- Rhah and Wolfe go their separate ways as the scene shifts.
- A group of soldiers are headed into the jungle. King is glad he's not among them.
- "Somewhere out there is the beast and he hungry tonight," King exclaims.
- He asks Taylor what he's so grumpy about and why he isn't writing any letters. Doesn't he have somebody, King inquires. A grandma?
- Taylor responds that he has nobody before lighting a joint. King says he's smoking too much weed before taking the joint from Taylor after he's taken a few puffs.
- Taylor asks King if he's ever been caught in a mistake that he can't get out of. King says there's a way out of everything.
- Taylor is bothered that guys like Elias get killed and guys like Barnes get to continue making up the rules.
- Taylor feels like he and the other soldiers aren't worth anything. King says nobody ever said they were.
- All Taylor has to do is make it out, and then the rest of his life is gravy, all gravy.
- O'Neill comes up, and tells King to get his stuff together. His time in Vietnam is over, and he's got 10 minutes to catch the last chopper.
- He's ecstatic. He talks a bit more to Taylor before saying goodbye.
- The scene shifts to a very infected-looking foot. Barnes is examining it. It belongs to Junior, who says he can't walk.
- Barnes stands up, looks at him, and then says next time Junior puts mosquito repellant on his feet he will be court martialed.
- Junior's face changes. He's been caught, or so it seems. He screams at Barnes and tells him to go ahead and court martial him. He doesn't care anymore.
- He shouts some more before Barnes asks O'Neill, who has been watching the whole thing, if he still has the centipede Barnes found.
- O'Neill doesn't realize at first that Barnes is playing a game with Junior but then confirms.
- Barnes asks him to get it so he can put it in Junior's pants to make him walk. Junior shouts some more.
- Barnes leaves, and Junior falls back on the ground, saying he can't take it anymore.
- O'Neill chases after Barnes, and tells him he's been given R & R (vacation).
- It starts in 3 days, and he wants to go to Hawaii. Barnes says no. They need guys like him out there.
- O'Neill gets upset, and reminds Barnes that he's never asked him for anything. He only wants 3 days.
- Barnes declines again. O'Neill starts to choke up: "Bob I got a bad feeling on this one alright?"
- He's afraid he won't make it out. Barnes replies by telling him that everybody's gotta die at some point. Well that's heartening.
- Barnes leaves. O'Neill is frustrated—to say the least.
- The scene shifts, and King is on a helicopter that is taking off. He's waving at Taylor.
- The chopper leaves. A few seconds later, an explosion rings out, and a machine gun starts firing.
- The scene shifts to Rhah, who's annoyed that the ambush is starting "right fucking now" rather than later.
- The scene shifts again to Junior, who is sitting on the ground, staring. Bunny talks to him.
- He doesn't feel like they've done anything wrong, but sometimes he gets a bad feeling (just like O'Neill).
- He confesses that he likes Vietnam. You can do what you want, and nobody bothers you. The only thing you have to worry about is death, but even if you die you won't know about it anyway.
- Junior is annoyed that he has to spend the night in a hole with Bunny.
- Meanwhile, Captain Harris is on the radio, talking to a group of soldiers somewhere else (perhaps the group we saw going into the jungle earlier).
- Harris is trying to get information, but the guy on the other hand seems unable to provide it.
- He and his group are surrounded by the enemy, but Harris has launched some artillery.
- Harris wants to know how they landed, but he gets no response from the other end. He tries several more times.
- Suddenly he can hear enemy voices over the radio. Then it goes silent. Dun dun dun.
- Enemy soldiers prepare to head out. They're studying a map, tying shoes—that sort of thing.
- They start moving. Another soldier hands them grenades as they move out. While running through the forest, one of them trips a flare.
- It's Rodriguez's hole. Taylor and Frances notice it. Machine guns and RPG's start firing.
- Rhah comes into the foxhole and gives them instructions: shoot anything that doesn't identify itself.
- Taylor and Francis (Corey Glover) are on the perimeter and are thus the first line of defense. A flare shoots into the air, lighting up the surrounding area.
- It's an enemy "probe." Nothing can be seen in the trees. Suddenly, another flare goes up—a sure signal that the enemy has walked another man's foxhole.
- A man runs towards Taylor and Francis, screaming "don't shoot, don't shoot." He's an American soldier who was ambushed in the jungle.
- He scrambles into the foxhole, and tells that hundreds of enemy soldiers are on their way. They need to bounce—and quick.
- Taylor and Francis stay in the hole, and then once they see enemy troops they start firing.
- Something explodes nearby, and Taylor is blown back. Dazed, he gets up, and tells Francis to stop firing.
- It's too quiet, and he knows that means the enemy is getting ready to blow them up. He scrambles out of the foxhole, and screams at Francis to do the same.
- They get out of the way as a bazooka is fired at their hole. They wait in the bushes, and Taylor finally charges out, killing several enemy soldiers.
- Inspired by his example, Francis charges forward as well.
- Meanwhile, Bunny tries to shoot the enemy over the top of his foxhole with a shotgun while Junior sits nearby.
- In the chaos, Bunny runs out of the foxhole, and crashes into a tree. He's shot from behind.
- The NVA soldier jumps in and shoots him in the face. Meanwhile, Junior is being stabbed multiple times by an NVA soldier.
- Basically, it's all a gory mess.
- Barnes is scrambling somewhere. O'Neill, in his foxhole, is terrified. He grabs one of the dead bodies nearby, and hides under it.
- NVA soldiers think everybody in O'Neill's hole is dead, and move on.
- In a command somewhere, a guy is on the phone.
- It's Oliver Stone, making a small cameo. He's being updated on the progress of the battle.
- Outside, NVA troops have penetrated the perimeter and are overrunning the encampment.
- One NVA soldier runs into the command center, and shortly thereafter it blows up. He's definitely the equivalent of a suicide bomber.
- Captain Harris sees it all go down. "Son of a bitch," he exclaims.
- Lieutenant Wolfe is trying to negotiate the chaos of battle, and he can't get anybody on the radio.
- He gets Captain Harris on, and says that he and his troops are being overrun and need to fall back.
- There's nowhere to fall back to, Harris replies, before ordering him to stand his ground.
- NVA troops continue to advance. Wolfe is hit with shrapnel, and then shot by an enemy soldier.
- Harris knows the battle is all about lost, so he orders an artillery strike dangerously close to where the troops are fighting. What have they got to lose?
- We see a jet approach, and bombs start falling.
- Barnes is engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier. After taking one out, he is shot in the leg.
- Taylor approaches. Barnes has decided to finish off an almost dead soldier. Taylor runs over, screaming at him.
- Barnes turns around and knocks Taylor back. Then he goes over to Taylor, and gets ready to kill him with a small shovel.
- His face and the surrounding landscape are both dark. His eyes are almost red, giving him a positively satanic look.
- At that moment, a plane flies in and starts dropping napalm, or agent orange, or bombs—something very destructive at any rate.
- The blast wipes out scores of soldiers—NVA and U.S. alike.
- It's daylight, and the battle is over. The camera slowly pans along the trees: there's Taylor, lying in the bushes.
- He looks pretty beat up, but he's alive. The sounds of the jungle (birds and insects) contrast with the chaos of the previous night.
- He sees a deer, a rare sign of life in the erstwhile inferno.
- He slowly gets up. He's clearly wounded, and falls down the first time he gets up.
- He staggers forward, eventually making his way to a huge pile of bodies. He picks up an NVA weapon.
- A soldier in the background slowly tries to crawl away from the carnage.
- Taylor starts walking. Soon, we see another soldier, right in front of Taylor.
- He's crawling slowly. He reaches a tree, props himself up, and turns around: Barnes.
- He says, "get me a medic." Taylor doesn't respond. Barnes reiterates his request: "Go on boy."
- Taylor is staring at him, a cold, I-don't-care-anymore look on his face.
- He points the gun at Barnes.
- Barnes looks at him: "Do it," he says.
- Taylor doesn't hesitate. He shoots Barnes several times, then goes back to the body pile.
- A search and rescue group moving through finds him, and calls for a medic.
- Nearby, Francis emerges from a foxhole, unharmed. He stabs himself in the leg.
- O'Neill, who had spent the previous night hiding under a dead body, also emerges.
- Some of the other members of the platoon have survived (Rhah), and are taking souvenirs from dead NVA soldiers (one guy cuts off an ear).
- "Adagio for Strings" starts playing again as scores of dead bodies are gathered up. The dead NVA soldiers are pushed into mass graves
- Taylor is being carried on a stretcher. The camera shifts, and a radioman is describing the carnage as Captain Harris looks on: 522 wounded and counting.
- Taylor and Francis encounter each other, and Francis mentions that since both he and Taylor have been wounded twice they get to go home.
- Captain Harris approaches O'Neill, and asks him how he's doing. Fine, he responds. "Good," Harris responds, "you've got 2nd platoon."
- O'Neill is crestfallen.
- Taylor put on a chopper, and he sees Rhah, who raises his staff, pounds his chest, and grunts.
- Taylor smiles, and salutes him back. The chopper takes off.
- From the air, we can see dead bodies all over the place. Taylor looks out, and starts crying.
- As the chopper continues on its course, Taylor reflects on his experiences: "We didn't fight the enemy. We fought ourselves."
- He offers some thoughts on his relationship to Barnes and Elias: "There are time since when I have felt like a child born of those two fathers."
- After a few more words, the film concludes with Taylor describing his obligation to make the best of what he has left of life, and to teach others what he has learned.
- The screen goes white, and a message appears: "Dedicated to the men who fought and died in the Vietnam War."