Casualties of War
|Casualties of War|
|Directed by||Brian De Palma|
|Produced by||Art Linson|
|Screenplay by||David Rabe|
|Story by||Daniel Lang|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Cinematography||Stephen H. Burum|
|Edited by||Bill Pankow|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
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. The picture 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.
The story is presented as a flashback of Max Eriksson, a Vietnam veteran. A platoon of American soldiers is on patrol when they are suddenly attacked by the Viet Cong. While on flank security, the ground cracks under Eriksson as he is above a Viet Cong tunnel. Sergeant Tony Meserve pulls Eriksson out of the hole and eventually, the Americans stave off the attack.
The platoon takes a break outside a river village in the Central Highlands. While relaxing and joking around, one of the platoon members, Specialist 4 "Brownie" Brown, is killed when the Viet Cong ambushes them. Shortly afterward, Private First Class Antonio Diaz arrives as Brownie's replacement.
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, later threatening to kill Eriksson if he dares an attempt to interfere. The girl is forcibly taken to the squad's next command post and is repeatedly beaten and raped by all the men but Eriksson.
The squad later takes 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.
After the battle, Eriksson wakes up in a hospital. 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 First Class 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.
- Michael J. Fox as Private First Class Max Eriksson
- Sean Penn as Sergeant Tony Meserve
- Don Patrick Harvey as Corporal Thomas E. Clark
- John C. Reilly as Private First Class Herbert Hatcher
- John Leguizamo as Private First Class Antonio Diaz
- Thuy Thu Le as Oanh/Asian student on the train
- Erik King as Specialist 4 "Brownie" Brown
- Ving Rhames as Lieutenant Reilly
- Dale Dye as Captain Hill
- Holt McCallany as Lieutenant Kramer
- Dan Martin as Hawthorne
- Wendell Pierce as MacIntire
- Sam Robards as Chaplain (Captain) Kirk
- Steve Larson as Agent
- Vyto Ruginis as Prosecutor
- Maris Valainis as Streibig
- Darren E. Burrows as Cherry
- Sherman Howard as Court Martial President
- John Marshall Jones as Military Policeman
- Amy Irving as voice of girl on the train (uncredited)
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 novel was published in 1969. Film rights were bought by David Susskind who was to produce the film for Warner Bros. Pete Hamill wrote a script and Jack Clayton was to direct. However the film was not made. In the late 1970s Susskind announce he would make the film for ABC-TV. This did not eventuate.
In 1979 David Rabe mentioned the project to Brian De Palma, who was interested but was unable to raise the money to finance it. Some years later Rabe had written a script, and De Palma attached Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn as actors. They almost succeeded in getting the film financed at Paramount, but ultimately decided not to proceed when the budget went from $17 million to $20 million. De Palma then went on to make The Untouchables which was a big hit; Dawn Steel had liked the project at Paramount, and when she became head of production at Columbia Studios, Casualties of War was the first film she green-lit.
"Historically Vietnam War movies have been very profitable," said Steel. "All of them. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter. You're looking at movies that have never been not pretty successful, but very successful. The foreign numbers have been extraordinary."
The film was shot in early 1988, mostly on location in Thailand, with some filming in San Francisco. The bridge location was filmed in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, which was the same as the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.
This film was Fox's third major dramatic role. He had previously starred in 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.
"Let's be honest," said Fox at the time. "If this movie makes a buck and a half it's going to be things like Bikini's Away for me. But to fail doing something unexpected is no disgrace. To fail doing the ordinary is a disaster. This movie is about how much you will risk if you have nothing to gain."
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The movie debuted at number four. It was criticised by Vietnam Veteran Groups.
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, and the other is the defense attorney trying to discredit Eriksson during the trial. This extended version has a running time of 119 minutes.
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Casualties of War opened in 1,487 theatres, and ranked number 4 in box office for the first week of its release. It went on to gross $18,671,317, making it a box office loss. Most of the reviews were positive, and it garnered an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews.
- Political Film Society: PFS Award; Peace; 1990.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe; Best Original Score - Motion Picture Ennio Morricone; 1990.
- Motion Picture Sound Editors: Golden Reel Award; Best Sound Editing - Sound Effects; Maurice Schell; 1990.
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- COOL HEAD, HOT IMAGES By Bruce Weber. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 May 1989: SM24.
- "Casualties of War (1989)". Box Office Mojo. 1989-09-26. Retrieved 2014-01-15.
- Canby, Vincent (1989-08-18). "Review/Film; In 'Casualties Of War,' Group Loyalty Vs. Individual Conscience". The New York Times.
- Incident on Hill 192 By CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 14 Nov 1969: 45.
- Second Phase Will Begin in Warners Revamping Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 Jan 1970: d10.
- KINNEY DEFENDS WARNER ACTIONS: Holders Are Told of Major Filming Activities By LEONARD SLOANE. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Feb 1970: 69.
- David Susskind: Growing Up in TV By MITCH BRODER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 Feb 1978: D31.
- At the Movies: A Linson-De Palma Vietnam film The man who makes Merchant-Ivory music The woman who made Day-Lewis sound like a Czechoslovak. Lawrence Van Gelder. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Feb 1988: C8.
- It's Back to Vietnam for Hollywood: Columbia's Dawn Steel has a lot riding on a brutal Brian DePalma war movie. The tale behind her commitment to 'Casualties of War.' Rosenfield, Paul. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 Aug 1989: R1.
- An Actor Who Insists on Being Serious By ALJEAN HARMETZSpecial to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Aug 1989: C13.
- Vets Join List of 'Casualties' Critics: De Palma's Film Draws Protest of Soldier's Image De Palma Assailed Kastor, Elizabeth. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 24 Aug 1989: C1.