Gardens of Stone - Gardens of Stone(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse Films - 2019]Gardens of Stone saw Francis Ford Coppola returning to the subject of the Vietnam war for the first time since he released his 1979 masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. Based on the book of the same name by Nicholas Proffitt, the title of this 1987 film is a reference to the graves of soldiers in the military cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, that form the backdrop to the film’s opening credit sequence.
Gardens of Stone is an interesting choice for a new bluray release, it’s one film that has thus far managed to fly under the radar for me, which is especially unusual when you consider the high profile of the film’s director. I’d never actually heard of Gardens of Stone before, however this release has piqued my interest. The film not only has an one of the finest directors of his era it features a wonderful cast that includes James Caan as Sgt Clell Hazard, Anjelica Huston as his love interest, the reporter Samantha Davis, James Earl Jones as Sgt Major ‘Goody’ Nelson, and D.B. Sweeney as Jackie Willow, the young soldier who arrives at Fort Meyer with the desire to complete his training and head off to fight for his country in Vietnam. Once at Fort Meyer he is taken under the wing of two old friends of his Father, Sgt Hazard (Caan) and Sgt Major Nelson (Jones). Hazard is the old soldier with a desire to train new recruits for the battle with the Vietcong, sadly for him he is assigned to the Old Guard, the US army’s honour guard, who he calls ‘toy soldiers’ due to the fact they don’t take up armed combat. Hazard sees something in the young Willow, that reminds him of his own son whose life he is no longer a part of, and he begins to train the young man who has a desire to fight in Vietnam. Willow is quickly promoted and ends up marrying his childhood sweetheart Rachel Feld, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, before he heads off to the Academy, and eventually Vietnam.
Whilst Gardens of Stone is a very different film to Coppola’s earlier Vietnam tale, Apocalypse Now, it still manages to create a fairly poignant argument about the negative aspects of war in general and in particular the war in Vietnam. The film deals with important issues in a very gentle and understated way, however it still manages to pack a punch. The film’s lack of action scenes makes it a very different proposition to the high octane, acid trip that is Apocalypse Now and this is probably why Gardens of Stone never attained the same level of success as Coppola’s earlier film. It is however a very good film in its own right and I hope this new bluray from Powerhouse will encourage a reappraisal of what is a very good film.
The disc itself contains a lovely crisp, clear print of the film, that looks like it could have been shot last week, not 32 years ago. There is a decent selection of bonus material. Alongside the usual trailers and image gallery there is an audio commentary with the film maker/historian Jim Hemphill. A fascinating interview with Coppola himself where talks about making a peaceful anti-war movie. There is also a fascinating hour-long audio interview with Anjelica Huston, where she talks about everything from her childhood right through to her career in film.
Overall, this is a pretty good release for an underappreciated 80s gem. Well written, technically well crafted, and with some top-notch performances from a stellar cast, Gardens of Stone is a film very deserving of critical reappraisal.Darren Charles