Tuesday, March 5, 2019

CONSENSUS #84 Casualties of War (1989)

SYNOPSIS:  It is the tale of an atrocity in the Vietnam War.  A small recon patrol is sent out to locate an enemy base camp.  For recreational purposes, the sergeant (Sean Penn) has them kidnap a Vietnamese girl.  One of the men (Michael J. Fox) is not on board for the “entertainment” and after the mission ends in a fire-fight, brings charges against his squad-mates.

BACK-STORY:  Casualties of War” is Brian De Palma’s entry into the Vietnam War movies competition.  It was based on an actual incident known as “the incident on Hill 192” which occurred in 1966.  De Palma wanted to make the movie after reading Daniel Lang’s article in The New Yorker in 1969.  Lang later turned the article into a book entitled “Casualties of War”.  The movie was filmed in Thailand where the local cuisine ravaged the cast.  The bridge used in the climactic scene was part of the Japanese Burma railway system of River Kwai fame.  The budget was $22 million and the box office was $19 million.  The movie was a hit with most critics and is considered by some to be one of the better Vietnam War films.

TRIVIA:  Making of documentary, Wikipedia, imdb

1.  Brian DePalma wanted to make the movie after reading Daniel Lang’s article in the New Yorker in 1969.  Lang wrote about the “incident on Hill 192”.  Later Lang turned it into a book entitled Casualties of War.  No studio wanted anything to do with a controversial Vietnam War movie at the time.  DePalma was only able to get financing after his successes with movies like “The Untouchables”.

2.  Screenwriter David Rabe was a playwright.  He was a veteran of Vietnam.  He wanted to end the film with Eriksson having a nightmare about the other four getting revenge.  He was not happy with DePalma’s more upbeat conclusion.

3.  DePalma was very anti-Vietnam War.  He had avoided the draft by doing several things including claiming to be homosexual.

4.  DePalma approached Michael J. Fox about doing the film.  Fox was interested in continuing to break out of light comedies.  He had already made “Light of Day” and “Bright Lights, Big City”.  Fox got very ill from the Thai food and spent some time in a hospital during the shoot.  He gave gifts to the snake-beaters who protected the sets.

5.  Sean Penn was already an established star.  He stayed away from Fox during the production and made remarks about Fox’s status as an actor.  Whether this was to enhance the tension between their characters or he was being a dick is unclear.  I think the latter.  Fox was diplomatic in describing the experience.

6.  John C. Reilly had been hired as an extra.  He had just gotten off a 24 hour flight back to Chicago when DePalma had him reboard to assume the role of Hatcher.  This was necessitated by the firing of Stephen Baldwin.  The movie was Reilly’s debut.  This was  also true for John Lejiuzamo.

7.  Thuy Thu Le answered a casting call in Paris because she wanted to meet DePalma.  It was her first and only role.  She became a schoolteacher in California.  Her voice as the girl on the train was dubbed by Amy Irving.

8.  Principal photography was done in Thailand.  The bridge in the climactic scene was part of the Burmese Railway featured in “Bridge on the River Kwai”.

Belle and Blade  =  4.5
Brassey’s              =  2.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #55
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  “Casualties” is often overlooked in the Vietnam War canon.  While not in a league with the iconic films like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket”, it does have the advantage of being a true story and is actually pretty accurate in covering the incident on Hill 192.  Fox does a great job as the naïve, but principled protagonist.  Unfortunately, the movie is taken down a notch by a grating performance by Penn.  The rest of the cast is fine with early roles for John Leguizamo and John C. Reilly.  It’s position at #84 shows that the experts can sometimes get things right. 

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