|CASUALTIES OF WAR (director/writer: Brian De Palma; screenwriters: story by Daniel Lang/David Rabe; cinematographer: Stephen H. Burum; editor: Bill Pankow; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Michael J. Fox (Eriksson), Sean Penn (Sgt. Meserve), John C. Reilly (PFC Herbert Hatcher), Don Harvey (Cpl. Thomas E. Clark), John Leguizamo (Diaz), Thuy Thu Le (Oanh), Ving Rhames (Lt. Reilly), Erik King (Brown); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Art Linson/Fred Caruso; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 1989)|
|"Makes us look at the mistaken
Vietnam War as something that's dehumanizing."
by Dennis Schwartz
Lang's 1969 New Yorker article is adapted to the big
screen by director Brian De Palma ("Greetings"/"Raising
Cain"/"Femme Fatale"). It's co-written by De
Palma and the Vietnam War veteran playwright
David Rabe. It's a flawed film, with too many pious
speeches (thanks to Rabe's script). But it's also a
provocative Vietnam War film, that makes us look at
the mistaken Vietnam War as something that's dehumanizing.
The one tragic incident revealed becomes a metaphor
for the war being morally wrong. Though for the most
part it's gripping and disturbing, but in the final
act the fact-based story, based on a true war
incident, leaves us with a phony, puzzling and absurd
ending that tries unsuccessfully to resolve the
conflict the whistle-blower hero still has after his
emotionally powerful story, set during the Vietnam
War, in 1966, tells of a five-soldier
squad on a long-range reconnaissance mission. They
kidnapped a South Vietnamese girl (Thuy Thu Le)
and take her miles away from her village, where four
of the five men rape, torture and eventually stab her
to death. Sgt.Meserve (Sean Penn)
orders the kidnapping so that she can service his men
with a little R&R. Only the clean-cut
newcomer, Pfc. Eriksson(Michael J. Fox),
refuses to participate and opposes the evil sergeant.
When back at the home base, the rookie
reports the incident and aims to bring the guilty
parties to justice. As a result, the sergeant attempts
to kill him in the latrine.
Harvey and John C. Reilly are two members of the squad
who unquestionably go along with the rape and murder,
while John Leguizamo is at first reluctant but is
pressured into joining the group assault.
The savage incident is revolting and shooting it in slow-motion is both exploitative and searing. In any case, the film lets us know that just opposing the war is not enough-one must actively try and stop the bad war.
REVIEWED ON 5/26/2015 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ