Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly, Thuy Thu Le, John Leguizamo, Dale Dye, Erik King and Ving Rhames

Brian De Palma

Running Time:
121 mins

"This is wrong"

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.


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 today.

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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