SOFILM LOOKS AT THE MAKING OF 'CASUALTIES OF WAR' AHEAD OF BOX SET FROM WILD SIDE
Sofilm's Maxime Werner looks at the making of Casualties Of War:
1979: Veteran and playwright David Rabe attempts to resuscitate the project and goes to see De Palma, who had taken an early interest in Lang's story, when he was just an underground filmmaker unknown to the battalion. But it will take a few more years and a favorable alignment of the planets for the endeavor to succeed. 1987: two Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket and above all Platoon, have just hit the box office, and De Palma is himself crowned with the triumph of the Untouchables, which places him in a position of strength in Hollywood. But this is not enough. To pass the pill of such a depressing and controversial project (to the point that the startled Paramount withdrew in favor of Columbia), you need a huge star. Luckily, Michael J. Fox, the youth idol since Back to the Future and the Family Ties series, is looking for more serious roles than he is usually offered. A simple reading of the script (written by Rabe) convinces him: Eriksson, it will be him. To play his nemesis, Sergeant Meserve, producer Art Linson debauchery Sean Penn, best known at the time for his escapades with his companion Madonna that made the tabloids cabbage. A few youngsters, real blue screen dicks, complete the cast: Don Harvey, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo. It remains to find the girl. De Palma absolutely insists that she be Vietnamese, and not Thai or Filipino, for example. He goes around the world to finally find her in Paris. Her name is Thuy Thu Le, she is a student and sees an advertisement. She shows up for the audition and it is immediately overwhelming. Outrages will be her only film.
De Palma pushes the sliders of realism far. There is no question of reconstructing Vietnam in the Hollywood jungle of the studios. But it's 1988, and Vietnam itself is still not an option. So, go to Thailand, where an entire village is created from scratch. For the jungle scenes, the team sets up in an open pit, deep in the forest, with water ramps for the rain. While the technical team is busy, the actors are not to be outdone. Because you don't improvise yourself as a soldier, if only for the beautiful eye of a camera. Under the guidance of two Vietnam veterans, they undergo intensive training and learn to behave like a real patrol. For two weeks before filming begins, they eat C rations (the soldier's individual ration: canned fast food), take long walks through the forest carrying heavy M- machine guns. 60 or grenade launchers, learn to disassemble and reassemble their rifles. Problem: One of the instructors quickly turns out to be a berserk, the type who sets up assault simulations in the middle of the night, in corners infested with snakes. Even Sean Penn, even the most invested of the troop, ends up answering him: "Are you not a little sick? This is a movie we're making, not the war. The dingo is quickly replaced by Dale Dye, another veteran who also plays Captain Hill in the film. The experience helps to create bonds between the actors, to strengthen their sense of belonging to a group, but also to give everyone a place in this group, the one they will occupy in the film. Each becomes his character.
In full delirium Actors Studio, Sean Penn plays the game thoroughly, even if it means behaving like a bastard with everyone. It has to look true on screen. Poor John Leguizamo bears the brunt in a scene where, take after take, Sean slaps him heavily - for real, then. After the thirteenth take, Leguizamo begins to see candles. But, of course, it's Michael J. Fox who suffers the most from the Sean Penn "method", who doesn't speak to him. Never. Even outside filming hours: in the hotel restaurant, he sits at another table. The rest of the time he trains or spends some time with "his" soldiers. For the purposes of a scene where Fox has to act out anger, he goes so far as to stick a straight right before the take. "Sean treated him like crap," producer Art Linson will say. As for the famous trial scene where Penn whispers something inaudible in Fox's ear, De Palma says the actor horrors him with every take. Like, "I fucked your wife a few times and now it's gonna be your turn. "At the end of the shoot, Fox will send him a note:" I wouldn't say it was a pleasure, but that it was a privilege. "
The shooting is extremely trying, especially the jungle scenes. First there is the climate, the tropical heat which is around 50 degrees, the sun beating down hard, when it's not the torrential rain ... Enough to cause a lot of delay and put everyone on the edge. To wait between takes, while De Palma perfects one of his super-sophisticated camera moves that are his specialty, the actors brutalize themselves with a questionable local beer. It takes a month to get the first night fight scene canned, with one shoot every night. To make matters worse, poisonous insects and snakes are present. Sometimes someone yells "Cobra !! And the tray is cleared while specialists take care of the intruder. Under these conditions, anyone ends up getting sick one day or another. Michael J. Fox vomits almost after every dose, has a colic and ends up in the hospital coughing up blood. Everyone has one desire: to go home, to their country. We count the days. It may only be a movie, but you end up believing it. As Fox says, “I wouldn't say I'm a Method actor, but after 60 days in the jungle you hate everyone and want to get the hell out of here."