A poor man’s Platoon. But that ain’t so bad.
In director Brian De Palma’s Vietnam-era war drama, a young soldier (Michael J. Fox) suffers a crisis of conscience when the men on his patrol callously rape and murder a Vietnamese girl and then try to cover up the crime.
This late 80’s gem is actually based off a horrific event where 4 soldiers actually raped and then murdered a Vietnamese girl, but the 5th one chose not to.
Director Brian De Palma is most known for taking his style over substance in most films, but here he actually stays on track and goes for a bigger understanding. I expected this to be a huge, big-scale, Vietnam war epic, but instead it’s a small, singular story that’s more about the themes instead of the glitz and glamor of most war films.
The bitter lesson of this film is that its not always enough to have morality on your side, you also have the power to back up your beliefs and what you stand for. The film is about this small group of sliders where they have become so angry, and so vicious, that they don’t even consider any Vietnamese person, human beings. The film shows the harsh effects of what all this hardened violence can do to a person, and sometimes make them turn for the worst. You also have to wonder how you would act if you were put in the same situation, as I still do not know what I would exactly do.
My main problem with this film that really took away from my overall experience was the beginning and end of this film. It starts off with Fox on a subway, visibly alive, and having a flash-back as to what happened during his time in the war. This already has us know that Fox is alive throughout the whole story, and ultimately takes away from the film’s tension that it tries so hard to go for. The conclusion is also so up-lifting, gentle, and unconvincing that it really does seem tacked on to this film and took my self away from the harsh reality of war that this film gives off.
It must have been hard for some people to actually believe Michael J. Fox here as Pfc. Eriksson, even though he’s always known as Marty McFly. As the film goes on, you understand how courageous he is in standing up for what he knows is right, and doesn’t once back down from any of these guys, as intimidated as he may be. Sean Penn is amazing in this role as Sgt. Meserve, the vindictive squad leader who is filled up with so much venom and hatred from all these months in the jungle, that he is able to absolutely oppose his will on the others, and he convinces us that he can do that. We also get some very early roles from the likes of John Leguizamo, John C. Reilly, Ving Rhames, and the evil Don Harvey.
Consensus: Casualties of War has a poor opening and beginning that may take away from the film, but it soon becomes a morality tale, heightened by great performances from the cast, and themes about war that will stay in your mind.