PFC Eriksson (Fox) is the cherry of Sgt. Tony Meserve's (Penn)
platoon but after a firefight that sees the sergeant save his life. He then
quickly becomes part of the team but when one of them is killed, everything
changes. Their attitude towards to Vietnamese people now becomes one of
suspicion and hatred and Meserve decides to take a local girl for some fun
for the platoon. With only Eriksson standing up to the sergeant, the private
now faces a moral battle to save her.
The horrors of war have never been the easiest subjects to
approach but these are stories that have to be told and 'Casualties of War'
tells one of the most tragic and disturbing ones.
In 1969 director Brian De Palma read an article in the New
Yorker about a private in the army who reported his fellow platoon soldiers
after they kidnapped, raped and murdered a Vietnamese girl during a tour
of duty. The story stuck with him and for almost twenty years he tried to
bring the account to the silver screen but because of the controversial
nature of the material the world had to wait for it to be told.
The subject matter of the article and the film is not the
easiest to tell or to watch but De Palma and his creative team approach
it with uncompromising and gritty reality. This approach means that the
film is at times rather uncomfortable to watch, as it pulls no punches in
its portrayal both the evil and good sides of humanity.
The story of PFC Eriksson's platoon and their decision to
take Tran Thi Oanh from her village after the VC drove them too far was
a monumental step forward for the war movie genre. While there had been
films before that dealt with war crimes but the abuse of prisoners during
any conflict was always the domain of the enemy and not the US armed forces.
What happened during the Vietnam conflict was different however. The fact
that this wasn't like any fight that America had faced before and that they
were actually losing, this turned honest soldiers into lawless thugs. Seeing
their friends killed by an enemy who ignored the rules of engagement and
fought using guerrilla tactics, some men just cracked and forgoed all their
training and morals to become animals themselves. This story highlights
one such incident that actually happened.
De Palma gathered together a first rate cast of up and coming
character that would go on to be some of the best actors of their generation.
Better known for his comedic roles on TV and movie, the decision to cast
Michael J. Fox as Private Eriksson might have seemed a risky one but he
excels in a very difficult role. He is the only one who stands up to Sgt.
Meserve and knows that it is wrong. A year earlier he proved that he was
a talented character actor in the film 'Colours' but for Sean Penn the role
of Sgt. Tony Meserve he really put his name on Hollywood's radar. This role
highlighted the power of his method style as totally becomes this powerful
and disturbed character.
As well as the two protagonists, the film also has standout
roles for John C. Reilly as PFC. Herbert Hatcher, John Leguizamo as PFC.
Antonio Diaz and Don Harvey as Cpl. Thomas E. Clark, each of them making
a name for themselves in the films that would also put them on the Hollywood
radar. Add to this Ving Rhames as Lt. Reilly and Dale Dye as Capt. Hill
and you have an extremely talented cast that does the power of the story
justice. Vietnamese actress Thuy Thu Le provides the most powerful performance
as victim of the abduction and it is her that makes the film as disturbing
and as heart wrenching as it is.
'Casualties of War' is not a comfortable watch but it is a
powerful movie that commands your attention. The storyline pulls no punches
and never comprises in showing the true extent of the events that happened
in Vietnam jungle. With performances from the ensemble cast that are first
rate, this is a film that takes the telling of war atrocities to a new level
and that any side should answer for their crimes.
PICTURE & SOUND
Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1, the
movie is presented well. The film is also the extended version, meaning
you get an extra six minutes of character development.
Eriksson's War: A conversation with Michael J. Fox (18.43 mins)
The star of the film talks frankly about the dramatic role that changed
his career. Better known for his comedic roles in film and television
with 'Family Ties', the actor talks about how he got the role and how
he prepared for it. He talks passionately about working with director
Brian De Palma and Sean Penn, revealing their approaches to the film and
the techniques he learnt from him. This is a good interview with the star
who we sadly see little of these days due to his illness.
The Making of Casualties of War (31.21 mins)
Director Brian De Palma, producer Art Linson and editor Bill Pankov reveal
how the film came about and the 1969 New Yorker article that inspired
the screenplay. They discuss the problem they had getting the film made,
with many studios turning it down due to its controversial storyline.
The casting of Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly,
Thuy Thu Le, John Leguizamo and Dale Dye is also discussed, highlighting
the dynamic between Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox as they both became consumed
by their roles. They also talk about the changes to the script, highlighting
the original ending and the fact that the story is still very relevant
Previews of 'Tears or the Sun' and 'Black Hawk Down'
The extended version of 'Casualties of War' brings this controversial
but important film to DVD with a well-packaged DVD. The interview with
Michael J. Fox and the making of featurette are both good but the lack
of a commentary track will be a disappointment to fans. This aside it
is still a DVD worth purchasing if you are a fan of the movie.
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