Gardens of Stone | Chicago Reader

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Francis Coppola's 1987 Vietnam meditation was his best film in a while (pace Peggy Sue Got Married), though it's still something less than satisfying. James Caan is a career army sergeant stationed stateside who opposes the war for strategic reasons rather than on principle, and Coppola wants to find in Caan's conflicted loyalties—professional and personal—a model for the turmoil that divided the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, what he eventually settles for is a kind of general benediction—we're all agents of fate and circumstance, Anjelica Huston's antiwar journalist reassures Caan, so you do your thing and I'll do mine—which might not be so bad if it weren't so automatically, and mindlessly, conferred. The production upholstery could hardly be bettered—it's middle-American Visconti, wrapped around a grave, moralistic (as opposed to grave, aesthetic) center—and this time the Leo Buscaglia sentimentality has enough behavioral firmness (in the attention to army ritual, etc) to keep it from collapsing. Still, there's the inevitable Coppola nostalgia to contend with—it nags at his films like the ghost of thwarted ambition—though here at least it finds the graveyard rationale (in close personal and thematic terms) it's been aiming for all along. With James Earl Jones, D.B. Sweeney, and Mary Stuart Masterson.

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