Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly, Thuy Thu Le, John Leguizamo, Jack Gwaltney, Erik King, Ving Rhames, Dan Martin, Dale Dye, Sam Robards
Written by: David Rabe, based on a book by Daniel Lang
Directed by: Brian De Palma
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 121
Date: 08/18/1989

Casualties of War (1989)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Right and Wrong

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Brian De Palma's Casualties of War was released at an abominably bad time, just after a huge spate of other vietnam-related movies, including the acclaimed Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Good Morning Vietnam. Both critics and audiences were bored with Vietnam, and only De Palma's old time supporter Pauline Kael gave the film a good review. Likewise, Michael J. Fox was trying -- unsuccessfully -- to break into serious roles, and this was his third strike (after Light of Day and Bright Lights, Big City). Nevertheless, he is quite touching here, topped only by Sean Penn in a superb, frightening performance.

Fox plays PFC Eriksson, a greenhorn in Sgt. Tony Meserve's (Penn) platoon and must decide the right thing to do when his comrades take a Vietnamese girl (Thuy Thu Le) prisoner and rape her.

De Palma deliberately gives us the opposite of Oliver Stone's unpredictable, operatic jungles and Stanley Kubrick's controlled violence. He conveys the sinister horror of the situation with his tilted widescreen angles, but there's time to appreciate the jungle for its beauty and its terror. You can feel the air and the wet and the heat. De Palma lets his shots linger, sculpts them through editing, and the drama builds. It's a memorable experience.

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