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Capt. Benjamin L. Willard
Played By: Martin SheenA veteran U.S. Army special operations officer who has been serving in Vietnam for three years.
- Badass: Especially in the Redux version.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: A veteran special operations officer serving in the Army's elite 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Delivers one to Kurtz in the final scene.
- Professional Killer: He functions more as an assassin than a conventional soldier. He was assigned to kill Kurtz precisely because of his skills and experience in wetwork.
- Rage Against the Reflection
- Sanity Slippage
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: While still in the war he certainly qualifies and it just gets worse.
- Shirtless Scene: Frequently, but perhaps the greatest example is when he goes to kill Kurtz.
- Sociopathic Soldier: A soft Type 3 example
Col. Walter E. Kurtz
Played By: Marlon BrandoA highly decorated U.S. Army Special Forces with the 5th Special Forces Group who goes rogue. He runs his own operations out of Cambodia and is feared by the US military as much as the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
"Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor...and surviving."
- Badass: Colonel Kurtz is a highly decorated officer, with a list of accomplishments so large that makes Willard take a long thoughtful pause to marvel at them. Every conceivable professional award, both in the administrative sense and for valor in combat was awarded to Kurtz over his career, making him stand out as a golden boy officer who was gonna be the king of the hill some day. In Vietnam his combat tactics have been extremely effective and have had a high success rate for defeating and demoralizing the enemy; so much so that he made the US Army look bad when he used his methods instead of the recommendations of his superior officers and his tactics ended up winning the day. The Vietnamese enemy is quite frankly terrified of him.
- Bald of Evil: Back when Kurtz was still with the Army he had a full head of hair. He's shown as a handsome, professional looking officer in his dossier photos. To contrast the professional look he had during his military service the Kurtz who has transformed himself into a jungle king is bald. The shaved head evokes a vibe of regression, that Kurtz has reverted to a more primal state of mind.
- Big Bad: Arguable example. While Kurtz's actions are clearly extreme, and in violation of neutral territory surrounding Vietnam, nothing Kurtz does is any more evil than what his enemies or the US military is doing. The only thing that makes him even even close to serving this role is the fact that he sets the plot of the movie in motion.
- Broken Ace: Self-inflicted; Kurtz was being groomed for senior command, but he chose to go into Special Forces after his tour in Vietnam. Willard notes that doing so would ensure that he never rose above the rank of Colonel, and what Kurtz saw in Vietnam eventually twisted him into the rogue warlord shown in the film.
- Colonel Badass: Not as overstated as Kilgore, but it should be noted his rate of success in battle with the enemy was high and the enemy feared him.
- Deadpan Snarker: In his last words before Willard hacks him to death:Kurtz: They train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes...because it's obscene.
- Knight Templar: Is extremely zealous about the idea of achieving victory at any cost.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Views winning a war as the highest priority of a soldier, and the greatest possible good they can achieve. Doesn't matter what it takes to win, even if you have to be cruel, because winning is right and losing is wrong.
Lt. Col. William "Bill" Kilgore
Played By: Robert Duvall1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment commander and surfing fanatic. Kilgore is a strong leader who loves his men but has methods that appear out-of-tune with the setting of the war.
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning."
- A Father to His Men: Kilgore is a genial commander who does care for his soldiers, despite his bloodlust.
- Nice Hat: His iconic Cavalry Stetson, which he is never seen without. They're unofficial in the Air Cavalry, but of course Kilgore would wear this rather than a boring old beret or helmet.
- Shirtless Scene: Kilgore is so ludicrously Badass that, even when shrapnel is raining down around him, he'll take off his shirt.
Engineman 3rd Class Jay "Chef" Hicks
Played By: Frederic ForrestA former chef from New Orleans who is horrified by his surroundings.
- Decapitation Presentation: Kurtz drops his severed head into Willard's cage.
Chief Quartermaster George Phillips
Played By: Albert HallThe chief runs a tight ship and frequently clashes with Willard over authority. Has a father-son relationship with Clean.
- A Father to His Men: In particular to Clean, whose youth stirs parental feelings in the Chief.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Gets impaled by a native spear as they near Kurtz's lair. He tries to kill Willard with it, but expires before he can do so.
Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Lance B. Johnson
Played By: Sam BottomsA former professional surfer from California. He is known to drop acid.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Becomes more and more unhinged the further upriver they go, eventually falling in with Kurtz's men when they finally find him.
- Face–Heel Turn: Briefly joins Kurtz's operation once they find his hideout, participating in all the bizarre rituals they carry out and doing nothing when Willard is captured and locked up as a prisoner.
Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Tyrone "Mr. Clean" Miller
Played By: Laurence FishburneA seventeen-year-old cocky South Bronx-born crewmember.
- Black Dude Dies First: The first of the crew to die, gunned down by a VC ambush as they cross the border into Cambodia.
Played By: Dennis HopperA manic disciple of Kurtz who greets Willard.
"This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fucking shit we're in man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack."
- Erudite Stoner: The Trope Codifier, although he's not quite as erudite as he thinks he is. (He can quote Rudyard Kipling and T. S. Eliot, but his riff on dialectics is pure gibberish.)
- Motor Mouth: He talks rabidly about a variety of subjects in a short amount of time.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Coppola based the character on Errol Flynn's son, Sean, who disappeared in Cambodia during Vietnam.
- No Name Given: He's only known as 'the Photojournalist'.
- Psycho Supporter: To Kurtz, who he considers an idol.
- Talkative Loon: Rants about almost everything and never shuts up, even when Kurtz starts throwing things at him.
Lieutenant General Corman
Played By: G. D. SpradlinAn authoritarian officer who fears Kurtz and wants him removed.
- Black and White Morality: It's unclear (although unlikely) that he believes what he's saying, but Corman tries to espouse this idea to morally justify giving Willard the mission to kill Kurtz. For his part, Willard doesn't exactly buy it.
- Shout-Out: To notable B-Movie producer Roger Corman, who gave Coppola his start in Hollywood.
The Mysterious Man
Played By: Jerry ZiesmerA mysterious man in civilian attire who sits in on Willard's initial briefing.
Colonel G. Lucas
Played By: Harrison FordAn aide to Corman and a general information specialist who gives Willard his orders.
- Desk Jockey: With his fresh-faced look and stoical exposition, he certainly gives off this impression. It's unlikely he's ever been in the field.
- Mr. Exposition: He outlines the basic plot of the film; to travel up the river and kill Kurtz."Your mission is to proceed up the Nung River in a Navy patrol boat. Pick up Colonel Kurtz's path at Nu Mung Ba, follow it and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the Colonel's command."
- Shout-Out: To Coppola's friend and frequent collaborator George Lucas, who was at one time tapped to direct the film.
Capt. Richard M. Colby
Played By: Scott GlennPreviously assigned Willard's current mission before he defected to Kurtz's private army and sent a message to his wife telling her to sell everything they owned (but he goes on to tell her to sell their children, as well).