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Friday, January 31, 2014
Drew McWeeny's Movie Rehab series examines Brian De Palma's Casualties Of War as a movie that got "lost in the tidal wave of Vietnam films in the late '80s." McWeeny goes through the film scene-by-scene, and says that David Rabe's screenplay "is beautifully structured, and far more than 'just' another movie about Vietnam."

After looking at the tunnel scene near the beginning of the film, McWeeny delves into the contrasting acting styles of Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn:

"One of the main reactions I heard from people who dismissed Casualties Of War during its theatrical run in August of 1989 was that they didn't want to watch Michael J. Fox in a Vietnam film, that they simply didn't believe he was right to be a soldier. Even then, I didn't buy that as a legitimate gripe. First, Fox is a good actor, and always has been. Second, Vietnam wasn't a particularly picky war in terms of who the Army was willing to send over, and if a guy like Fox had enlisted or been drafted, they would have sent him happily. I think De Palma and Rabe get the racial balance right in the film, and beyond that, I think it's a nice cross-section of types so that when things go south… and they do… it's not just an either/or situation between Eriksson and Meserve. The acting styles of Sean Penn circa-1989 and Michael J. Fox circa ever couldn't be more different, and I like that friction that seems to exist between them. There's this huge macho swinging dick energy that Penn gives off where he basically tries to annihilate Fox through sheer force of personality alone. The Fox casting not only is not a problem for me, it's one of the things I love about the film the most. I was thrilled that he decided to try and stretch and ended up working with one of my favorite filmmakers at the time, and I thought it paid off in a genuine tension onscreen."

McWeeny doesn't seem to be a fan of the "director's cut" version of the film, for which De Palma restored the scenes he'd reluctantly cut from Casualties for its initial release, and also doesn't think the ending works. "The rest of the movie feels anti-climactic, honestly," McWeeny writes, "including an interrogation scene with two guys questioning Eriksson exhaustively, trying to pick holes in his story that was added to the director's cut of the film that is the only DVD currently available. The courtroom scenes at the end are necessary, but it's the least interesting stretch of the film. The one great beat is watching the four of them march out of the court martial, and Meserve leans in to whisper something to Eriksson and then --

"--- and then comes the unfortunate coda, where De Palma reaches for some profound beat between Eriksson waking up on the train and following the girl out to return a scarf to her. It's supposed to offer him some sort of closure, but it doesn't work as a moment at all. I think sometimes an ending like this can deflate a film, and in the case of Casualties, it's hard to deny that things end with a fizzle. There's something very odd about the way De Palma dubbed Amy Irving's voice over the English dialogue by Thuy Thu Le, and the dialogue she has is corn of an almost preposterous degree."

Posted by Geoff at 1:22 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 1:23 AM CST
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