Whichever way you cut it APOCALYPSE NOW is a stroke of genius.
Working on the assumption that you are familiar with either previous cut of the film I will skip the part where I lay out the synopsis, except to say that the film is quite possibly the greatest sentiment of the Vietnam War ever put to film. As any one of the versions attests, it isn't so much a realistic portrayal of the conflict itself (although it feels so) but rather a concise charter of the psychological trauma and the culture surrounding it. It is very much a perpetual descent into madness manifested in a surreal and nightmarish experiment of storytelling.
THE FINAL CUT removes 20 minutes from the Redux cut, making for a trimmer 3-hour narrative with less lag. One - of two major sequences - which Coppola added in 2000 has been removed again; it being a second encounter with the Playboy Bunnies. It was an ineffective addition in the first place and the story benefits without it. The other sequence features a visit to a French plantation whereby Martin Sheen's character, Captain Benjamin Willard, spends an evening with a large family who refuse to leave their acreage, which has been under threat throughout the conflict. The sequence in of itself is fantastic, however within the context of APOCALYPSE NOW it serves as dead weight. The sequence lacks subtlety and feels politically motivated, and it undermines the overall sense of nuance and suggestion that the rest of the film embodies.
Other notable changes include extended sequences involving Robert Duvall's surf-obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore and longer monologues from Marlon Brando's psychotic Colonel Kurtz. Again, these are fantastic scenes in their own right, but ultimately serve little purpose. Were they to be confined to supplementary material on a home-entertainment release then they would hold immense value, but in terms of serving an 'ultimate cut' they are simply a filmmaker's self-gratification.
Irrespective of my personal grievances, APOCALYPSE NOW: THE FINAL CUT is a sight to behold. It has never looked and sounded better, and it gives cause for audiences to see it again on the big screen. Whether you watch the theatrical version, the Redux or the Final Cut, you will witness one of cinema's finest achievements; an audacious and visionary cinematic masterclass, and an unrivalled visceral experience. A tour de force of music, psychedelia and violence featuring an ensemble of Hollywood titans.
For argument sake lets call it a trilogy... 3 cuts... 3 visions... 3 films.... each being powerful, and each with their own story to unpack. For what it's worth I will always preference the original 147-minute theatrical cut, but I will always watch whichever one you want to offer me.