It takes a great actor to crack up. Not merely fall apart and babble, mewl like a baby and plummet to the floor to toss about, batter the carpet, and deliver the tantrum of all tantrums like Hitler hearing that Russia is lost. Anyone can feel anger. Anyone can scream and conjure up being pissed off.
But it takes a great actor to plunge into cosmic dread. It takes an actor of Frederic Forrest’s talent to pull something like that off.
He’s the most likable character in Apocalypse Now. Willard (Martin Sheen) is too misshapen and damaged to give a shit about. Sure, we want him to complete his odyssey and encounter Brando, but we don’t care about him. He’s a reptile with only memories of being human. Chief (Albert Hall) is stoic and marvelous in his underwritten role, but he’s too authoritarian and because he cares too much, we’re suspicious. Things have got to be pretty bad back home for him to give a shit about Vietnam. Scary. Clean… Mr. Clean (Laurence Fishburne) is a wild talent. We do care and want his skinny ass far away from the napalm and madness, but he’s never gonna make it. The kid has target written all over him. He’s too crazy, but not crazy enough to make it out alive. And then there’s Lance (Sam Bottoms). He’s good for a laugh, but he’s stared into the sun too long. He’s better off up at Spahn Ranch staying high, screwing hippie girls, and creepy-crawling with Charlie. He’s got survivor written all over him and is beyond our sympathies.
But Chef is another matter. We all want him to make it. Maybe not to stare into vats of putrefying boiled meats, but maybe to work in some French bistro downtown, perfecting them sauces he’s always dreaming about when he’s not thinking about a bevy of Playmates or whatever he dreams when he’s not dreaming of being home. And when Chef snaps in the jungle, jumps back aboard the PBR and vows to “never get off the boat” it’s like the whole damn universe has been revealed to him as the sham it is. He’s bopped out of the Big Easy, into ‘Nam, and into Oz. He’s living the nightmare and he can’t figure out how he’s sputtered to such a dead end. He’s seen the tiger for what it is and he freaks. He wants out. He wants what all of us want. Only problem is, he’s got to get back on that boat.
Too bad there are worse things waiting.