10 September 2010

Casualties of War

United States - 1989
Driector - Brian De Palma
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 2 Hours

Coming at the tail end of the last wave of popular 'Nam films DePalma's Casualties of War is difficult to take seriously for a number of reasons. I personally am unable to separate Michael J. Fox from his "self" simply because he has done little else as remarkable and memorable to me as Marty McFly. Back to The Future came at a crucial moment in my brain's formative years and for better or worse is frozen there. Sean Penn has done much more significant work since his role as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that I am able to mentally separate the actor from his character here.

The Casualties of War story is itself much too simplified. The plot here is too separated from the context of the war. It feels as if it could have taken place anywhere and Vietnam was just a convenient and popular cinematic trope at the time. Despite its basis in a true story, the Meserve (Penn) and Eriksson (Fox) characters are too flat, too uniformly bad and good respectively to really buy as real. This was particularly noticeable because the war itself has little role in the film, it doesn't motivate the actions of the characters as it should and thus there is little rationale for their actions, hence why use Vietnam except that it was in the source material?

Don't get me wrong it is an entertaining if not encouraging film, and it is notable for the screen debuts of John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo, (an another appearance by Dale Dye) but the story lacked the depth and worldliness I had hoped for and failed to analyze the role of the war itself in the actions of the people it affected.

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