David Rabe's play is named after military parachutes that fail to open, although the young soldiers' freefall starts in the barracks before they're shipped off to Vietnam. The symbolism is foregranded heavily in song, "Beautiful Dreamer" lent a maudlin-mordant twist by a couple of sergeants full of beer, yet Robert Altman remembers the tune from McCabe & Mrs. Miller and steers the conflict wryly, amply elucidating "the nice thing about the long fuse." The drama is M*A*S*H* stripped from its wise-guy veneer (like that most desolating of comedies, this is also often reductively mistaken for an anti-war track), or possibly an all-male retelling of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean -- either way, the full weight of Altman's acuity, from Combat! on, is applied to what was at the time dismissed as canned theater. Kubrick surely must have recalled Matthew Modine here as "a storyteller" and "a busybody" when casting Full Metal Jacket, David Alan Grier as the black recruit who's learned not to rock the boat plays the role for all the subtle comedy in it; the two soldiers are repulsed and fascinated by Mitchell Lichtenstein, whose "fag stuff" is a threat to the Army's cult of masculinity. (During one of Modine's monologues, the camera prowls close to Lichtenstein as he toys with a piece of wire from his mattress.) Guy Boyd and George Dzundza wander in and out as blowhard Korean War vets, Michael Wright is the razzing outsider who, armed with racial fury and a switchblade, infiltrates the circle of anxiety and pushes it to its shattering point. Stocked with jive, bravado, and blubbering, the barracks distill the racial and sexual turbulence of the society glimpsed out the window; Altman's camera fills the stage with the characters' inner space, and leaves it in the middle of a storm. Cinematography by Pierre Mignot.
--- Fernando F. Croce