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AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN
Special Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Gere, Debra Winger, Lou Gossett Jr., David Keith, Lisa Blount, Lisa Eilbacher, Robert Loggia
Director:  Taylor Hackford
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Audio Commentary
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  May 1, 2007

"I GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!"

Film ***1/2

When I look back at An Officer and a Gentleman, I find it a difficult film to categorize.  Probably the easiest out would be to just slap the infamous ‘chick flick’ label on it (a moniker I personally detest, but seems to identify a specific and real genre), but that wouldn’t involve any thought. 

Plus, consider the scene near the climax where officers candidate Zack Mayo (Gere) and his drill instructor, Sgt. Foley (Gossett Jr.) square off one on one in the ring:  man to man, blow to blow.  Why do they do it?  Because of a tragedy that threatened to tear Mayo apart, and almost brought him to making a huge mistake.  Foley fights him, and both men release their rage.  Like in the later film Fight Club, it was the kind of thing most guys instinctively understood:  it had less to do with macho posturing and more to do with a primitive releasing of anger and aggression that goes back to ancestral times.  If I’m reading too much into it, then at least let me simply point out that this scene was NOT put into the movie for the women in the audience.

I love this movie, and I always have.  It successfully straddles many horses at once, and manages to keep them going in the same direction.  There’s the love story, of course, and the story of surviving the military boot-camp pounding.  But the true core of the story is one man’s attempt to rise above the things in his life that have kept him down, and to find something worthwhile within himself.  And part of what makes the romance aspect of the story work so well is simply that while he wants to find it on his own, he eventually realizes he can’t, and that the love of another person can in fact validate his own worth.

It’s difficult at first to know if we should like Mayo.  In early flashbacks to his childhood, we understand how he became who he is.  When his mother committed suicide, he was sent to the Philippine Islands to live with his father (Loggia), a boozing, whoring Navy lifer with little to no interest in raising a kid.  Young Zack grew up in a world where liquor, drugs and sex were abundant, and the hustle and crooked deal were ways of life. 

Now, as a young man, he decides to try his luck in the Navy himself, entering into an officer’s training school with aspirations of flying jets.  His first obstacle is drill instructor Foley, who is there not only to train, but to expose potential weaknesses and flaws:  those who can’t handle the strenuous program often end up submitting their D.O.R. (drop on request) and slipping out of the picture.

But Foley warns that there are obstacles off base, as well:  the poor working class girls who latch on to every new class in hopes of marrying a Naval aviator as a way out of their existence.  It wasn’t uncommon, he states, for these girls to get themselves pregnant in order to force the marriage.

Soon, two of the local girls, Lynette and Paula (Blount and Winger) have struck up relationships with Worley (Keith) and Mayo.  The girls seem to provide the only escapism from the toughness of their training.  Still, Mayo manages to keep a cool distance, despite the good times he has with Paula.  He remains a loner, and self absorbed.

He thinks his knack for looking out for ‘number one’, plus his skill with the hustle, will get him through the program the same way they’ve gotten him through his life.  But it takes some hard lessons from Foley and a painful tragedy for him to learn:  you can’t go through life trying to con or expecting to be conned at every moment.  In order to be an officer, and in fact, a real man, he’s going to have to drop his protective shell and learn to be a team player.  One scene demonstrating how far he’s come is my favorite:  it involves a wall climbing exercise and the class’s lone female member, Seeger (Eilbacher).  It’s an emotional and very real scene, and proves to both Zack and the audience that he had what it took inside of him all along.

The scenes with Paula parallel his learning experience in the officers candidate school.  She’s a terrific girl, and not like the ones Foley described.  Zack is torn between pushing her aside (as we tend to think he’s done with many others), or learning to let down his guard and let her in.  When he finally does, it’s expressed in what has become one of the most famous finales in romance film history (one that’s been spoofed numerous times as well, with my personal favorite being The Simpsons).  Thanks to Foley, Mayo learned to be an officer.  Because of Paula, he became a gentleman as well.

I can remember seeing Pretty Woman for the first time and being shocked at Richard Gere’s graying hair.  Of course, now that I’m used to that, I marvel whenever I see one of his older films when he didn’t have that look!  He turns in one of his most memorable performances as Zack in this film—believable at all junctions of character development, and making the audience care about him even when he’s not always likable.  But the entire cast is superb.  I’ve never forgotten David Keith as Worley, an upright candidate with emotional scars, or Debra Winger’s sweet, sensitive turn as Paula, a woman putting herself completely on the line because she believes Zack can be who he’s trying to be, even if that means he’ll move on and leave her behind.

But credit Lou Gossett Jr.’s Oscar winning performance as Foley as the key:  to me, this is the definitive portrait of a drill instructor.  Though many might prefer Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, his was essentially a loud, one-note (though brilliant) performance.  Foley is a man who will surprise the viewers as the film goes along.  Sure, he’s as loud and abrasive as you would expect, but there’s an amazing amount of depth to the character as well.  He does what he does because he cares about his class, and as he begins to understand and appreciate what Zack is trying to accomplish, he helps him find that part of himself that can be a leader and team player.  Their final moment on screen together is one of the most unforgettable ones I can recall.

An Officer and a Gentlemen is a terrific story about growth and courage, about romance and honor, and about learning to rise above and change to become who you want to be.  It’s one of my favorite films of the 80s, and I still treasure it 25 years later.

Video ****

I’m extremely impressed with this anamorphic transfer from Paramount.  Generally, in my experience, films from the 1980s, particularly the early 80s, have been some of the worst transfers I’ve seen on disc…they seem to fall into a no-man’s land between having enough time passed to show wear and deterioration, but not enough to consider full scale restoration. 

The picture quality on An Officer and a Gentleman is exemplary, and ought to be considered a standard amongst movies from that time period.  The print is in remarkable condition, with only extremely minor incidents of spots or debris noticeable…far less than you might expect.  The opening darker scenes are an immediate good omen:  despite low lighting, there is clarity and cleanness to the images:  no grain is evident, nor lack of detail.  These contrast to the Philippine Island flashbacks…a signature of Taylor Hackford’s visual style is to alter the color schemes between time frames, and these older shots are washed with hot yellow:  a deliberate distortion, but again, the transfer responds beautifully, keeping images in tack despite the harshness of the color schemes.  And, naturally, the brightly lit outdoor scenes (and even the more overcast looking ones) look remarkable, with excellent, bright, natural coloring, sharp detail, and absolutely no evidence of compression, grain, or other artifacts.  Simply impressive!

Audio ***

I didn’t really notice much happening on the rear stage of this 5.1 mix, but still, there’s nothing really to complain about in this department.  The dynamic range is fairly good, with a terrific score by Jack Nitzche (complete with synths and guitars—how 80s!) and clear dialogue throughout with no noise problems.  The Oscar winning song “Up Where We Belong” at the finale sounds terrific, too. 

Features ***1/2

For starters, there is an excellent commentary track from Taylor Hackford.  I enjoyed his comments on the Dolores Claiborne disc, and do so equally on this one.  In some ways, Hackford’s commentaries are perhaps most indicative of what these audio supplements should be:  extremely informative with plenty of details about making the film, both in front of and behind the camera, with a good, relaxed speaking manner and no timidity, and even a touch of humor here and there.  In other words, if you want to know everything about making An Officer and a Gentleman, you have it all here:  straightforward, interesting, and without gaps or tendencies to wander off track. 

I mostly enjoyed the new 25th anniversary retrospective, which featured interviews with Hackford, Gere, Gossett and others, though I confess I felt a little nauseated hearing Hackford and Gere and their open, blatant contempt for all things military...nice.  Shorter featurettes include a return to Port Townsend where the movie was shot, and hosted by Gossett, plus a look at his and Gere's fight sequence, real military romances, and a photo gallery.

Summary:

Ironically, it was my original laser disc copy of An Officer and a Gentlemen that convinced me, though the format’s popularity was growing at the time, that LDs would NOT be the future of home video:  at 60 minutes per side, you had to flip the first disc and switch to a second one just because the film ran four minutes longer than two hours…plus, that second disc was my first introduction to laser rot.  I stopped buying laser discs and awaited the arrival of DVD.  It’s only poetic justice that the same movie would look better than ever on a single sided DVD than it did on a three sided laser.  Fans of this film are really going to enjoy this quality offering from Paramount.

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