Plot: What’s it about?
Private Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) is a normal person, but he has pushed to his limits by his current situation. You see, he has been called into service in the conflict in Vietnam, where young men are being sent off to serve, often never to return. Eriksson is no soldier either, as he is a warm, emotional person and not even close to the killing machine he needs to be, if he wishes to make it back from the dense jungles. But his commanding officer is not like him, as Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn) has been pushed over the brink by the conflict and as a result, his mind is no longer the same as it once was. So when a routine patrol turns up a Vietnamese woman, Meserve leads his soldiers in a rape session, with plans to kill the woman after they’ve all had turns with her. As it happens, Eriksson refuses to join in and takes a stand against his fellow squad members, but the woman is raped and killed, just the same. Eriksson wants to see justice served to the soldiers, but in a time like this, will justice even be close to being served?
This film was lost in the shuffle when it was released around the same time as Platoon & Full Metal Jacket, but that is a real shame, as this is a terrific motion picture. As expected, it can be tough to watch, but this is a war movie after all, so a harsh tone is a natural. You don’t want sugar coated approaches in war films at all, let alone in one based within the Vietnam conflict. I don’t find Casualties of War to be a hard hitting as some folks, but I do think it is well made and deserves more attention than it has gotten. It is well written in the areas it approaches, but I do wish it was darker in places, perhaps not so cut & dry also. It explores some harsh topics, but usually does so in a black & white manner, so much of the audience’s thought process is removed, since the issues aren’t left ambiguous. Even so, Casualties of War is a solid movie and features great turns from Michael J. Fox & Sean Penn, as well as good direction from Brian De Palma. This is no war classic, but if you’re interested, this disc is great and the movie is worth a look, so take a chance and give Casualties of War a spin.
I know his work as been inconsistent, especially in recent years, but I still hold director Brian De Palma in high regard. He has been past his prime for some time now and perhaps was well beyond that point when he made this film, but he was still able to provide solid direction and deliver a worthwhile war picture. Yes, he connects too many of the plot dots for us, but he creates an effective atmosphere and memorable moments, without a doubt. The material lends itself to a little more grey areas, but De Palma never falters too much, even if he should have placed more confidence in his audience here. Not his best work by any means, but not close to his bottom tier efforts, I don’t think. Other De Palma films include Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Obsession, Sisters, and Mission to Mars. The cast here includes Michael J. Fox (The Frighteners, Back to the Future), Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, The Game), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Entrapment), and John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm).
Video: How does it look?
Casualties of War is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I was a little stunned by this transfer, as the source print looks almost pristine at times and the image is excellent, much better than expected. The print shows minimal defects and much to my surprise, grain is light at worst and is often nonexistent. As such, the contrast is deep & rich at all times, with superb shadow depth and no detail loss in the least. The colors are dominated by the tropical green & brown hues, so the film’s color scheme is well represented here. A few small flaws aside, this one excellent treatment and another great transfer from Columbia.
Audio: How does it sound?
I had counted on a solid, but somewhat restrained audio mix here and as it turns out, that’s just what the new Dolby Digital 5.1 option provides. As often happens with these remixes, the audio seems a little thin at times, but in the end, packs more of a punch than I expected. The bass is not too powerful, but the surrounds are used often and to effective ends, even though not to the full extent I would have liked. The dialogue seems in order also, with no real problems to discuss, save a couple slightly thin moments. This disc also includes 2.0 surround options in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai, should you need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc sports a nice selection of bonus materials, including two retrospective featurettes that are a cut above the normal promotional fluff. The first piece is a nineteen minute with Michael J. Fox titled Eriksson’s War and Fox has a lot to say, revealing much about his approach to the role, his reasons for accepting the part, and memories from the production. Fox is quite candid and even tells some humorous & interesting stories, making this well worth a look. The second featurette is a more general behind the scenes piece, which runs about half an hour and includes a good amount of new interviews. Not quite as informative as I expected, but De Palma and various other cast & crew members do reveal some details, as well as a lot of back patting and in between, you’ll see clips from the film. This disc also includes a selection of deleted scenes, some talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer.