Casualties of War

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Casualties of War
Casualties of War poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Screenplay by David Rabe
Story by Daniel Lang
Starring Michael J. Fox
Sean Penn
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited by Bill Pankow
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • August 18, 1989 (1989-08-18)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $22.5 Million
Box office $18,671,317[1]

Casualties of War is a 1989 drama film directed by Brian De Palma, with a screenplay by David Rabe, based on the actual events of the incident on Hill 192 in 1966 during the Vietnam War. It stars Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn. An article written by Daniel Lang for The New Yorker in 1969, and a subsequent book were the movie's primary sources.[2]


The story is presented as a flashback of Max Eriksson, a Vietnam veteran. In November 1966, a squad of American soldiers is on patrol when they are suddenly attacked by the Viet Cong. The ground cracks under Eriksson while he walks above a Viet Cong tunnel. Sergeant Tony Meserve pulls Eriksson out of the hole and eventually, the Americans stave off the attack.

The squad takes a break outside a river village in the Central Highlands. While relaxing and joking around, one of the squad members, SPC 4 "Brownie" Brown, is killed when the Viet Cong ambushes the squad across the river. Shortly afterward, Private Antonio Diaz arrives as Brownie's replacement.

The unit is then re-deployed to a nearby village, which is believed to be an ally to the Viet Cong. Frustrated because his squad has been denied leave for an extended period, Meserve orders the squad to kidnap a Vietnamese girl, Than Thi Oanh, to be their sex slave. Eriksson strenuously objects, but Meserve silences him and ostracizes him from the rest of the squad, threatening to kill Eriksson if he dares an attempt to interfere. The girl is forcibly taken to the squad's next command outpost and is repeatedly beaten and raped by all the men but Eriksson.

The squad is later ordered to take up a position near a railroad bridge overlooking a Viet Cong river supply depot. Meserve has Diaz order air support for an assault on the depot, then orders Oanh to be killed. Before the squad can kill her, Eriksson fires his rifle into the air, exposing them to the nearby Viet Cong. In the midst of the firefight, Oanh tries to escape. Eriksson tries to save her but is stopped by Meserve, who knocks Eriksson down with the butt of his gun. Eriksson watches helplessly as the entire squad shoots Oanh numerous times until she falls off the bridge, dead.

After the battle, Eriksson wakes up in a hospital. Meserve and the squad cover up the murder but Eriksson refuses to let the secret die. He jeopardizes both his life and military career (thanks in large part to indifferent superiors, who prefer to bury the matter) to expose the crime. Eventually, an attempt on Eriksson's life is made by Corporal Thomas E. Clark, who tries to kill Eriksson while he is using the latrine. Eriksson takes action by confronting Meserve and his men, and using a shovel, strikes Clark across the face, scaring the rest of the men.

Eriksson then meets a chaplain at the bar and tells him the story of the girl. There is an investigation and the four men who participated in the rape and murder are court martialed: Meserve receives ten years hard labor and a dishonorable discharge, Clark is sentenced to life in prison, Private Herbert Hatcher receives fifteen years hard labor, Diaz receives eight years hard labor.

At the end of the film, Eriksson wakens from a nightmare to find himself on a J-Church transit line in San Francisco, just a few seats from a Vietnamese-American student who resembles Oanh (same actress). She disembarks at Dolores Park and forgets her scarf, and Eriksson runs after her to return it. As she thanks him and turns away, he calls after her in Vietnamese. She surmises that she reminds him of someone, and adds that he's had a bad dream. They go their separate ways and Eriksson is somewhat comforted.



The film was based on the real-life incident on Hill 192, and on Daniel Lang's book of the same title, but all names and some details of the story were altered. The bridge location was filmed in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, which was the same as the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

This film was, in a way, Fox's third major dramatic role. He had previously starred in the dramas Light of Day and Bright Lights, Big City. John C. Reilly and John Leguizamo make their screen debuts in the film, and the latter would again star with Penn in another picture by De Palma, 1993's Carlito's Way.


The theatrical cut of the film was released on DVD in 2001. This version has the original 113 minute running time. An extended cut of the film was released on DVD in 2006, that contains two scenes cut from the original release. One has Eriksson being interrogated by the two investigators, the other is the defense attorney trying to discredit Eriksson during the trial. This extended version has a running time of 119 minutes.


Casualties of War opened in 1,487 theatres, ranking at No. 4 at the box office to gross over $18,671,317 making it a box office loss. The film has received mostly positive reception, and has also garnered an 83% on Rotten tomatoes.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Casualties of War (1989)". Box Office Mojo. 1989-09-26. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (1989-08-18). "Review/Film; In 'Casualties Of War,' Group Loyalty Vs. Individual Conscience". The New York Times. 

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