CASUALTIES OF WAR
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Michael J. Fox,
Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo, Thuy Thu Le
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French, Spanish & Portugese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: December 11, 2001
“You probably like the army,
don’t you Eriksson? I hate the army.”
“This ain’t the army, Sarge…this
ain’t the army.”
Following the success of The Untouchables, Brian De Palma had become hot property with many studios. For his next film, De Palma would tackle something you’d never expect him to talk about; the war in Vietnam and the horrendous effect it had on the youthful soldiers who took part in it.
De Palma at first wanted to stray as far away from making any film about
Vietnam for numerous reasons. It was near the dawn of a new decade, the 90s, and
it seemed that so many films had covered the subject. Having admired such a film
like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, he didn’t feel as if he had the right vision to make such a movie.
That was suddenly changed when he came across David Rabe’s screenplay for Casualties
of War, which covers a horrific incident within the Vietnam War that was first
reported in The New Yorker magazine in 1969. It’s a good thing De Palma
considered directing the movie, because his stylish genius work with the camera
enhances the tension of this riveting and powerful account. In the realm of the
war movie, Casualties of War
is indeed a lost classic.
The story is
captured from the point of view of Pvt. Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), who is the
only solider in his platoon that seems carry any morals. The leader of the
platoon is the aggressively intense Sgt. Meserve, played by a ferociously
brilliant Sean Penn who disappears completely into the role for which the actor
acquires a rough New York-ish accent that is thoroughly convincing. The story is
told in flashback, with Meserve rescuing Eriksson from a near death incident in
the trenches of the war. The centerpiece of the story is when Meserve takes his
squad and kidnaps a young Viet Cong girl, and later orders all of the soldiers
to force themselves on her. Eriksson immediately stands up to Meserve and tells
him that he will not participate in the raping. Meserve then accuses him of
being both a queer and a VC lover. Eriksson does not participate, but Meserve
and the other four men throw themselves eagerly into the rape act.
And the madness
doesn’t stop there. In a very intense moment in the film, the platoon find
themselves in a much compromised position with their prisoner. The girl,
battered to a bloody pulp, is viciously killed by Meserve, as her consistent
cries for help threaten to give away the squad’s position to enemy VC groups.
Eriksson tries to stop him, but is unable to as Meserve beats him up and leaves
him for dead, but he is then soon rescued by a medic chopper.
The rest of the
movie plays as sort of a cat and mouse game, and a very effective one at that,
between Eriksson and Meserve’s men, who try to silence the young private in
fear that he might say something to a superior officer, and that’s just what
he plans to do. Eriksson intends to bring this incident out into the open, and
Meserve to justice, even though two commanding officers inform him, in a scene
that is stunningly effective, that military court martials are very lenient in
most cases, and this case wouldn’t look any different. Eriksson is also warned
that if convicted, the men may not serve a lengthy sentence.
Casualties of War is
one of Brian De Palma’s true masterpieces. To be precise, this would rank in
the director’s top five best films, which also includes Carlito’s
Way, The Untouchables, Blow Out, and
The film has many different touches of brilliance, including De Palma’s
knockout directing, the consistently realistic and convincing performances from
Fox and Penn, the power of David Rabe’s screenplay, and Stephen H. Burum’s
stunning cinematography. Though some may not agree with me, this film is
certainly in ranks of one of the best movies to be made about the Vietnam War.
off…I am entirely grateful to Columbia Tri Star for finally getting this film
to DVD. This is one movie I have anticipated for a long time to arrive on DVD,
and I’m glad it’s finally here.
Columbia Tri Star
surprised me thoroughly with how well they handled the transfer of this film.
Every time a Brian De Palma movie comes to DVD, I don’t always expect a grand
transfer, and coming from the same studio that released a disappointing transfer
to De Palma’s Obsession
earlier this year, my expectations were a bit skeptic. That wasn’t the case
with Casualties of
War, which looks terrific in this stunning transfer. About 95 percent of
the movie is shot in the jungles and outskirts of Vietnam, all of which look
outstanding, and vibrant with knockout colors. The only low point of the
presentation is the transfer of a few scenes that take place in night, which
come off a bit soft. Other than that, this is by far one of the best transfers
I’ve seen of a De Palma film.
No casualties here,
either. CTS has issued a tremendously impressive audio mix to this war movie,
which like many of its kind, is frequent with scenes of combat action. This
audio mix is so impressive that it ranks with the best recent transfer of any
war movie I’ve heard, Apocalypse
Now Redux. On this 5.1 presentation, the scenes of war come to life in a manner
and way I have rarely heard in this format. The rousing score by Ennio Morricone
comes to searing life as well, enhancing the power and effect of the film to an
even greater extent. A purely jaw dropping DVD experience.
Columbia Tri Star has
included some neat extras for a disc issued at an affordable price. Featured are
two documentaries, one titled “Eriksson’s War: A Conversation with Michael
J. Fox”, and a featurette on the making of the film. Also included are some
deleted scenes, and trailers for this movie and two other CTS releases, Birdy
Bridge on the River Kwai.