Truth is more Shocking than Fiction
D. W. MacKenzie | New London CT | 04/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Casualties of War is a unique film. There are many films that depict wartime atrocities. This one stands above the rest because of it's character development. We get to know the guilty parties, and they are not purely evil, but are in many ways quite ordinary. They seem like regular US GI's at first, just trying to survive day by day. Sean Penn's character (Sgt Meserve) leads them into an abyss, and only one of them (Eriksson, played by Micheal J Fox) refuses to enter. The others commit murder and rape, while Eriksson cringes. The separate perpetrators display trepidation, anxiousness, remorse and the lack thereof. Other characters exhibit cynicism and callousness. Their victim shows her fear alone.This film is effective because it shows all but one of the soldiers as having different and human sides. Eriksson and Diaz (John Leguizamo) know that what is happening is wrong, but one fails to stop it, and the other participates. Meserve comes up with absurd lies to try to justify what they are doing, not only for Eriksson, but for the others, and it seems even for himself. Only one character in this film (Clark) is completely inhuman. His sadistic fervor and amoral smugness makes him appear as a monster, plain and simple.This film is effective because it shows seemingly normal men in a descent into utter barbarism. Thuy Thu Le sets the mood for this by portraying the terror of their victim so well. Sympathy for the victim will surely make anyone cringe. But, it is by showing that the perpetrators, except Clark, are like most anyone that this film has its' strongest affect. How would we each fare if faced by such a situation? Who among us would stand against it? Who would succumb to it? This film strikes deeper than any horror film, with obviously inhuman monsters. It shows real people who become monsters, and is therefore vastly more effective- even more so because it all really happened."
The Greatest War Film of the Last Decade
L. Shirley | 05/18/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Along with Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War is one of the finest films about the Vietnam war. It should not, however, be viewed in the format available on VHS cassette, which is panned and scanned (at times, half of the image is missing). Like all De Palma films, it ideally should be viewed in a theater on a huge screen with stereo sound in order to achieve its full, emotionally draining, and audio-visually stunning impact. Since that opportunity won't come very soon for most people, wait until it comes out on DVD, at least so that you can get the letterboxed image and digital sound. Fox, Penn, Leguizamo, Reilly and the rest of the cast give memorable, at times haunting performances. Morricone's thoughtful score is exquisitely, operatically dramatic. And De Palma, muting some of his more baroque techniques, neverthless continues to explore his recurrent thematic concerns, pushing them to their logical conclusions in a war genre that is new to him only in environment if not in spirit (most of his films are about violent atrocities perpetrated by men). The film failed at the box office when it was released in theaters, probably because it disturbed audiences who wanted a friendlier vision of Vietnam, in which American soldiers were at least martyrs, if not heroes (such as Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, Coming Home, and the like). Other viewers complained that De Palma made his film too late in the Vietnam cycle, that his film retold a too familiar story. But this criticism is actually one of the film's merits and intentions: the first act travels the conventions of earlier Vietnam films that had become cliches (the Audy Murphy heroics, the wise black grunt, the male bonding of the platoon, and so on), only to explode them (and thus disrupt many of the viewer's expectations and foil their pleasure). Instead, De Palma turns to the horror of the rape in the second act as new ground other films had been too timid to cover. There are scenes in this portion that moved me to tears of horror and pity. While the third and last act is somewhat schematic, it provides the necessary moral weight for what precedes it. And the ending suggests that the nightmare of Vietnam, rather than absolved (a misreading on the part of many critics), has been imported back to San Francisco where images such as palm trees and young Asian women will forever trigger flashbacks of despair. For those who feel De Palma is incapable of such emotion, this film puts that misconception to rest."
A Movie That Must Be Seen
Joseph E. Loudon | KCMO | 03/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director Brian DePalma explained during the excellent "Marking Of" feature that he had wanted to make this film for nearly two decades. Why do so many truly great stories take soooooo long to reach the screen? Is it because studio executives believe everything must be dummy-downed or that American audiences can't bear to watch a real horror story like "Casualties of War"?And this is a truly gut-wrenching story. You don't just watch this movie, turn the "off" switch and that's it. This story stays with you. It should."Casualties of War" depicts, painfully and directly, the dehumanizing nature of war. Yet, through Michael J. Fox's character (Eriksson), we see that even under these extreme circumstances, the most courageous people cling to their humanity. They don't completely resign from the human race.Personally, I consider this film far superior to any other made about the Vietnam war -- better than the much overrated "Platoon" and even "Apocalypse Now."For "Casualties of War" puts a very real human face on its story. While much has been said about Sean Penn's menacing and Michael J. Fox's tormented performances -- both are excellent -- I won't soon forget Thuy Thu Le, the actress who portrayed the innocent girl raped and butchered.I'm flabbergasted that one critic called this film "unbearable" because the victim was given so little to say and was so passive. Just how aggressive was this tiny "girl" supposed to be when confronted by an armed squad? She spoke but no one could understand her. They didn't care what she had to say. She wasn't human to them. And that's the whole point.What will haunt me when I recall this movie is the expressions on Thuy Thu Le's face. Horrified. Frighted. Confused. Innocent.Her performance, indeed, makes "Casualties of War" unbearable, from her screams as she's taken in the black of night, to her wide-eyed fear as she quakes when Michael J. Fox cleans her wounds. Thuy Thu Le's performances makes you wince.I commend De Palma for not flinching. He didn't try to soften the blows. He wanted us to be disturbed by what we witness.We care desperately for this girl. We want her to be saved. We want someone to do the right thing.And we know she is doomed.I'm surprised some studio huncho didn't say, "The hell with the true story. We can't make a movie in which the girl isn't saved."In the end, we as an audience are faced with the painful fact Eriksson must live with -- that she could have and should have been saved, but wasn't. Eriksson realized, even in war, that there is still a line between right and wrong. He had the courage not to cross it, yet he will be forever guilt-strickened by his failure to stop the others who did."Casualties of War" is a masterpiece, and as I look at it again with fresh eyes on DVD, I'm still amazed it did not receive more acclaim. With so much junk being put on film today, we need to recognize art -- even "gritty, hard-to-look-at" art -- such as "Casualities of War.""
Brian De Palma lives up to his promise....
Photoscribe | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA | 01/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is easily the most true-to-life of all the Vietnam war movies. Much more believable than "Platoon", which relegated many of its characters to cartoonish caricatures, such as Junior and Bunny. In THIS film, the personalities are very recognizable as the very sort of young men who either enlisted or were drafted into that war. The characters of Meserve, Clark, Diaz, Hill and others are clearly drawn on real people and are recognizable as post war personalities, peculiar to the sixties especially, of not particularly high character.After repeated frustrations in battle, and spurred by the death of one of their number at the hands of the VC, Meserve, CO of the platoon, decides to abduct and gang rape a Vietnamese girl as revenge for the death, something most of the rest of the platoon thinks is a good idea. Ericksson, the new guy with the moral standards, opts out of the gang rape, and he thinks he has an ally in Diaz, a hispanic private of peripheral importance to the story, but when pressed by Meserve to join in, he quickly abandons Ericksson, who is left alone to report the incident to the brass of the company. He's met with stonewalling and sympathy for the PERPETRATORS, rather than cooperation, and he readily feels like HE is being cast as the villain, trying to spoil the "fun" of the others. Throughout all this, he has but ONE ally, a fella from another company who seems to think just like he does. Someone along the chain of command, though, also must have been in his corner, because after the girl is shot and killed by Meserve, he and the rest are all brought up on charges for the rape and murder of a civilian.Ericksson also has to endure Cpl.Clarke, a character who's actually a little more menacing than Meserve, with sunken eyes and the look and behavior of a drugged-up madman. Oddly enough, at first, just like in Platoon, Ericksson actually ADMIRES Meserve for saving his life, like Taylor initially admired Barnes, but empirical experience soon reveals what a dangerous group he's a part of. The psycho-drama, pathos and tension of this film is palpable, and it has to be one of the best Vietnam war movies as far as drama is concerned, and is definitely one of the best De Palma movies.Make sure only the people you know with the strongest stomachs watch this film, because it IS grueling in parts. But still very, very important and poignant."