Okay. So I re-watched it tonight. And while it was better than I remember, I didn't think it was the end-all-be-all some people tend to think it is.
Looking at it as two films as most people in this thread have done (which is pretty much a spot on way to look at it), I'm of the opinion that the SECOND half of the movie does more for the film's "message" than the first part, so I'll address that first.
Without going into the actual plotpoints, that second half basically sets up two parallel attitudes - the bravado and the fear - then overlaps and tangles them for a second, then abruptly separates them again. I imagine it gives a great (though probably only slight) indication of the soldiers' dilemma and it leaves you with that unsettled feeling of "what the hell just happened?"
As for the boot camp opening, it leaves me wanting. It had me asking "Why?" too often, but probably not in any way that was intended. My problem with it was this - If Pyle was such a dumb s*** (and indications were that the guy was borderline mentally retarded), then how does he go so overboard? Is he supposed to be a simpleton who take the message to kill too far? Is he a simpleton who's basically made too unhappy to want to go on? Is he a simpleton who's so confused he doesn't know what he's doing? Or is he just f***ing crazy?
The problem is, it's structured to play a little bit like all of those and maybe it's supposed to be. But in any case, the resolution doesn't make sense. If he was just a giant f*** up the entire time, well, then s***, yeah he'd be miserable and off himself under the pressure. Or if he were full of bad wiring, I'da thought you'd've seen that from the beginning. But as the segment goes on, he improves. He gets to be better physically. He becomes a better soldier. He begins to find his place as a soldier. And one would think that the pressures he was under at the beginning were relieved.
But instead, when the pressure is off, that's when it goes to s***. I can't find a particularly good explanation for that. If it's just supposed to be a tragic thing, then what the hell was all that build up for? It was just a cop out, storywise. If it was to show how brutal training could be, then give me someone strong who's broken down. Or at least someone with a fully developed brain. Even if it is gonna get splattered on a bathroom wall.
Behind the camera, I felt like it did some good things. Some of the edits and the camera work really served the story well. There were some wide shots that made for really interesting transitions and the jarring juxtaposition of some of the music to the visuals was interesting (though it may have been overused a bit, becoming a bit of a "device").
As far as the acting went, I thought Modin did a pretty good job. He's basically playing the entire movie as a set up for the one scene, and when he goes back to it in the final Mickey Mouse Club scene, he goes right back into his previous set up mode, only now you see it in a totally different light (and speaking of light, the fact that this is shot at night makes the reversion even more cryptic).
D'Onofrio does a great job with each scene individually. I think my problem with that part on the whole lies more with the structure of the character than D'Onofrio's talents.
And R. Lee Ermey is, well, R. Lee Ermey.
Overall, I think it's fine as a film, but I'd pass on it as a movie.