Casualties Of War (1989)
Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out
of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite
directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which
include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body
Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface
and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is
my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to
see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to
disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of
films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in
such high esteem.
I had actually caught this one many years ago, and I remembered not being thrilled with this movie, for many reasons. Now, generally speaking, I am not a big fan of war movies, but I don't hate them all, but it is a genre I am generally not very interested in. That being said, even without that there is much in this movie that I was not a fan of.
First and foremost, let's clear something up right away. This is based on a true story that happened in 1966. Please keep in mind that the criticism of the movie or characters do NOT reflect any criticism on the actual people or situations that actually went on. I have not read the original story nor do I have any other information than what was presented in the movie.
Let's start with the acting. First off, everyone seemed to do a good job except Michael J. Fox. I am sure he wanted this to be his serious role, and he is not a bad actor by any means, but he is way out of his league on this one. Everyone else did a fine job, but he was just so weak and did not really seem like a soldier at all. Plus it is really hard to see in a serious role like this, he needed to change his look or maybe play a bad guy, not the same nice guy he always plays.
Now, the story is basically one of those many stories about how bad wars are, how we aren't necessarily in the country for the right reasons, and how war turns normal men into raving psychopaths who can really do some horrible things. Somehow a group of soldiers loses their sanity after one of their own is killed and decide to go out and kidnap a young girl from a village since they are denied leave one night. The plan is to rape her and get back at these people they are supposed to be helping. Of course, there are a ton of complex issues at hand here, which can barely even be mentioned in a movie of less than 2 hours, but that is one of the reasons these movies fail so often.
Michael J. Fox's character is very much against this idea, but the other guys who have been there longer and are more disturbed seem to be all for it. The newest guy to join their group isn't down with it either, but he succumbs to peer pressure when he sees how much abuse Michael J. Fox is getting.
The sadness and melodrama is laid on thick in this movie, and of course the real life story of this is heartbreaking and terrible. But it does not come across as honest or real in the movie, it really comes off as a Hollywood version of the events. Ugly, yes, but Hollywood ugly. It just feels fake, which to me is worse than not making the movie at all. Oddly enough, Brian De Palma first referenced this event at the end of his movie Greetings in 1968, but in a comedic fashion, which was more his style back in those times. His comedies from them were witty, angry, and satirical. Personally I can identify more with that angle than playing this out as a serious yet terrible tale.
The odd thing about this movie, and remember I am talking about the movie events, is that even though Michael J. Fox is playing the "good" guy, I feel like he actually made things worse for this girl by turning into a me against them situation. Was it wrong? Of course it was wrong, that is not a question that needs to be asked. But the question that needs to be asked is, when something is wrong, how do we deal with it? His method came off as counterproductive in my mind. He was not going to stop this rape in any way, it was clear to anyone while watching the movie. But he could have made it so she could have ended up in a better situation.
All in all this movie is another one of many "bad things happen during wartime" movies that flooded Hollywood at some point. I respect De Palma for trying to make this movie for 20 years, and finally getting a chance to do it. Unfortunately I do not feel like the end result is something that was above and beyond many of the other better executed war movies I have seen. I was left feeling disappointed and like the end result was not very good.
By far not the worst movie I have ever seen, but I expect way more from De Palma than this.
6 out of 10 stars.