Apocalypse Now succeeds on many levels. On an emotional level, we connect with its message of the futility of war. On an entertainment level, the script does a fine job of keeping the audience engaged and interested throughout. Where I believe this movie succeeds the most, however, is on a cinematic level. By using very specific shot angles, this story, the setting, and the characters remain unforgettable.
The most common shot angle that I recognized was a high or very high angle. We are continuously looking down on the island, as if we are riding along the sky inside one of the helicopters with the soldiers. This not only determines how we will view and remember the island, but also solidifies our involvement with these characters. This high angle shot also causes a diminution of the villagers. We see them scatter throughout the island, attempting to fight back. When Colonel Kilgore and his men blow up the village, we see from above the power, aggression and devastation that Napalm and weapons of mass destruction can cause.
One of the most powerful shots of this movie is near the end, when Willard finally meets Kurtz. This mysterious man remains fascinating, as he shown in partial darkness, with just a little bit of light on his face. This haunting image was perfectly crafted. Utilizing just a bit of light to show us enough of his features to be intrigued, but keeping him in partial darkness, is a perfect tangible metaphor for the man Kurtz has become-steeped deep in the darkness of the jungle, but enlightened to the worlds' atrocities.
Apocalypse Now is another great example of a movie carefully crafted, wherein every single shot was done with full intention and made a definitive impact in the telling of the story.