Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan is a writer of novels, short stories and very bad poetry. He lives with his family in Charleville, Co. Cork. In 2017 he won the Over the Edge Short Story Competition & Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. Also, in 2017 his first novel The Sugar Sugar Café was short listed for  Mercier Press Novel Competition. In July 2018 Dalzell Press published The Sugar Sugar Café. This book is both a novel and a collection of linked short stories. In 2018, Michael completed a second novel, The Onion Sellers of Cork.  In 2019, Michael completed a third novel, The True Adventures of Setanta.


Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

Players: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duval

Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro

Script: John Milius, Francis Coppola, Michael Herr

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

When ‘Apocalypse Now’ was first released way back in 1979, it was met with mixed reviews. Like many an artist before him, Francis Ford Coppola grew disenchanted with his original work and 21 years later returned to the cutting room and re-edited and recoloured, remastered and rereleased the film as ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’. Another 18 later again Coppola has decided to make another attempt at artistic satisfaction with this film. ‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’ is the result.

‘Apocalypse Now ‘is the story of washed up U.S. Army assassin Captain Ben Willard (Sheen) sent on a mission by U.S. Military to ‘exterminate with extreme prejudice’ one of their own, Colonel Walter Kurtz (Brando). Kurtz has gone ‘clearly insane’ and has established his own army of ragtag renegades in the jungle in Cambodia. The film is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, ‘Heart of Darkness’, however the locale has moved from Conrad’s Congo in darkest 1890’s Africa to 1960’s war torn Vietnam. While the film takes tangents in plot there are many references and dialogue from the novel that surface once more in the film. ‘The horror! The horror’ Kurtz whispers.

In ‘Redux’ Coppola took much of the original footage and scenes and characters that were cut are spliced them back in. But this was no directors’ cut. This was a whole new film, however familiar. There is a new trend in Hollywood for directors to take a second look at a piece of work and for the studios to re-release it. Ridley Scott did it with ‘Blade Runner’. Spielberg has also gone to the well again with ‘E.T.’ In the Godfather Trilogy, Coppola returned to the cutting room and devised to retell the story in chronological order.  However, ‘Redux’ is different. This is more than reheating the pizza. ‘Redux’ is like Lazarus brought back to life, but this time he’s bringing his mother and father with him. It is 3 and a half hours long, that’s fifty minutes longer than the original. ‘Final Cut’ trims the running time back to 3 hours.

On big screen the cinemaphotography by Vittorio Storaro is stunning. The sheer scale of the set pieces are breath taking. There was no CGI back them, everything is real, real in the sense of Hollywood ‘real’. The colours are not just vivid, they seem to come alive and the use of light and shadows is majestic. The opportunity to see this masterpiece on big screen should not be missed.

The additional 50 minutes of ‘Redux’ introduced new scenes of a more soft lens approach to the story. This time there is comic relief when Sheen, Fishbourne and Bottoms steal Duvall’s surfboard. Other scenes are extended such as the Playboy bunnies implausibly adding some tender moments. Brando’s screen time is also extended. His character does not change, there is simply more of him. ‘Final Cut’ takes these back out again.

All the great scenes from the original are here: Sheen waking in a stupor in Saigon, Duvall in Cavalry hat stalking the Mekong beaches while surfing marines try to dodge Viet Cong mortar bombs, Brando patting water onto his face, Lawrence Fishbourne dancing to the Rolling Stones on the hull of the armoured boat, Joseph Bottoms water-skiing up the Naikong river.

The dialogue is wonderful. All the great quotes are here; Duvall has the lines, ” I love the smell of napalm in the morning…it smelled like victory’. Sheen gets to say, ‘First of the Ninth was an old cavalry division that cashed in its horses for choppers, and gone tear-assing around ‘Nam, looking for the shit.’

Brando’s line are somewhat problematic as he wrote most of them himself on set. This may have contributed to Coppola’s mental breakdown during filming. This is what Brando says in his tortured and beguiling mumble, ‘I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor, and surviving’.

However, ‘Redux’ and ‘Final Cut’ fail when it tries to flesh out the history of colonisation in South East Asia. In his journey up the Mekong, Sheen stumbles across a mysterious French colony struggling to keep alive their rubber plantation in Vietnam. The famile offers hospitality. Sheen even has a romantic interlude with the patron’s daughter. The famile explain their raison d’etre and the benefits of colonisation. There follows some of the worst French acting seen since Cantona exited Old Trafford. In the original print this entire subplot was left on the cutting room floor. And that is where Coppola should have left it.

‘Apocalypse Now’ has destroyed more careers than Christine Keeler. Harvey Keitel was fired from the leading role within two weeks of shooting beginning. A bacchanalian Sheen was flown to the Philippines to replace him. Sheen’s incessant alcohol abuse led to a heart attack in the jungle and almost died. That is Sheen’s own blood wiped on the sheets in the opening scene.  Coppola suffered epileptic seizures and allegedly attempted suicide during filming. Hopper and the rest of the merry crew slowly lost their minds on hashish and Bolivian marching powder. And on top of that, there was the colossus that was Marlon Brando.

Brando turned up on set completely unprepared. He had read neither the novel nor the script. At nearly 22 stone he was mightily overweight to play a Special Forces officer living deep in the unforgiven jungle on a diet of mosquitoes and dragonflies.  For many of those involved in this film- this would be the peak of their career and the end.

All the money that Coppola made from ‘The Godfather’ he lost financing ‘Apocalypse Now’. Everything. And at the time ‘The Godfather’ was the biggest grosser ever. Coppola lost the family home and the family winery too. Since 1979 he has directed mediocre or poor quality affairs such as: ‘Jack’ (1996), ‘Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and so on.

‘Apocalypse Now’ is what cinema can be. It is the ultimate in collaborative art. If it is possible for a team of people to create masterpieces of art, then this is it. If Caravaggio were alive today this is what he would have done.

‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’ is on limited release in cinemas in Ireland. It is three hours long. I loved every minute of it. They do not make films like this anymore and perhaps they never will again.

© 2019 Michael Sheehan