Gardens of Stone (1987) Coppola’s Vietnam Oddity

What the hell was that? Sorry but I did not get this movie. I was so thrilled when I heard from one of my readers about this a while back and thought that would be just the movie for me. I was always fascinated by military cemeteries. Those rows and rows of crosses. Each cross a life. Each cross a story. To dedicate a movie to those who bury the dead seemed so worthwhile. But somehow Coppola‘s Gardens of Stone doesn’t keep the promise it makes. Instead of an in-depth exploration of what it means to be the one to bury those who come back in caskets we get a little bit of everything which sums up to nothing. The acting is quite good, James Caan, Anjelica Huston and James Earl Jones do a good job but the story is too predictable. The movie starts with a funeral and then rewinds so we know already what is going to happen.

Sgt Hazard (James Caan) and Sgt Goody Nelson (James Earl Jones), two  Korea veterans and close friends, are Honour Guards at Arlington military cemetery. Hazard wants nothing more than going to Vietnam and teach the young soldiers how to survive over there. When a friend asks them to look after his son Willow who joins the unit, it seems to be Hazard’s mission to keep him from harm. As the funeral of the beginning  shows us, all his endeavors are futile.

It is exactly this predictability that finishes off this movie. And then there is the relationship of Hazard with the anti-war Washington Post correspondent Samantha. Their discussions pro or contra war are so boring. And totally without any consequences as she keeps on dating him… Of course there is also the young man who want to fight for his country and who is exemplary for so many who died doing just that.

The movie intersperses actual TV footage in order to give a bit of  “real war movie” flavor.

Apparently – I am speaking as a total layman – this movie is highly appreciated by people in the military. It is said to be very accurate and true to military life and rites.

Before I give you my final statement here is what  Jamie Russell writes:

Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted (Caan and Jones’ performances offer a truly outstanding sense of military camaraderie), Gardens of Stone remains one of the most problematic films to have come out of the war – part pro-military, part peacenik, 100% pro-American. (Vietnam War Movies, p. 46)

In my own words: It’s deadly boring hotchpotch.

Here’s the trailer


6 thoughts on “Gardens of Stone (1987) Coppola’s Vietnam Oddity

  1. Novroz says:

    Don’t you find it irritating when watching a movie that is not good but critics said it’s great!

    I haven’t seen this, but it does sound like a boring one.

    • Utterly boring. We were watching and one uf us as was always saying “Oh no.” What astonished me more with this movie is how some people say it is one of the most important movies for them. Maybe they were much (!) older.

  2. Rick says:

    I don’t see how “Much older” has anything to do with this unless YOU ARE CRIMINALLY STALKING OR ASSISTING CRIMINALLY STALKING someone. Explain your words. Oh, you can’t.

    • Maybe I don’t get you and maybe you are right and it has nothing to do with being much older. I am obviously younger than those who were in Vietnam as I wasn’t even born then. In that sense older, having been there, done that, you see? Don’t know how stalking comes into all this.

  3. displaced11b says:

    I’m a younger guy (early thirties), but have always liked this movie. I can relate to Caan’s character to an extent, as I went to The Old Guard (TOG)after serving during the invasion of Iraq.

    Many of the scenes bring back memories of my times in Arlington and on Fort Myer. Also, in TOG there is a rumor (probably false) that James Earl Jones was kicked out of Arlington National Cemetery after urinating on a tree.

    • I thought it was a bit old-school but that deosn’t seem to be the case. Thanks for sharing this. Sometimes when I don’t like a movie I feel a bit bad as I can sense it might be precious to others. That was the case here. Maybe I hould watch it again as it has been recommeneded many times, even since I’ve reviewed it.

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