Casualties of War
(1989)











Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 54 Minutes


Reviewer: Dale
Grade: D+

I guess De Palma must have been upset. He must have been irate at his lack of critical credibility and thought to himself "Hey, I know, I'll make a war movie!" Ugh! What a mistake!

De Palma can be a dependable director, but not here, folks. It's hard to imagine a film more wrong-headed than "Casualties of War". Notice that I say "dependable" rather than "Brilliant". I love "The Untouchables" and think it is one of the finest films of the last twenty years. It is riveting, well-acted, suspenseful and dynamic. It is a marvelous piece of work, with some amazing action set pieces. Ditto with "Carrie", a film that has more intelligence and genuine terror lurking in it than all the teenage screamer flicks made afterward combined.

But he just doesn't seem to know what he's doing here.

Which is too bad, because the central story of "Casualties of War" could have been a terrifying and harrowing film. In the hands of Oliver Stone, for instance, the story of four G.I.'s abducting and raping a peasant girl in the midst of the Vietnam war would have been mighty unsettling and very dark, intense stuff. There are moments of that intensity lurking here, but not nearly as many as a competent movie could wring from the material.

For one thing, the casting is all wrong. Ving Rhames, John C. Reilly, Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn and Dale Dye are all in this film, and each and every one of them has done solid work in other films. But none of them are very compelling here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that everyone but Dale Dye and John Leguizamo does a horrible job here. No, wait, that isn't quite fair. Fox tries, but he's just totally wrong for the film. He seems way too happy at the beginning of the film, and though he does an admirable attempt, he still can't convince us that he is this character. It isn't entirely his fault. The direction can't have helped. Neither can the fact that we keep thinking of Alex P. Keaton or Marty McFly.

The atrocious, overly melodramatic dialogue doesn't help matters either. It's just ghastly. Most of the lines just plain suck. You want Don Horton and John C. Reilly to just shut up and die in the course of this film. And Sean Penn's attempt at a Bronx accent is just horrible. Awful! Penn, Horton and Reilly are just massively awful.

So is the production design of the film. A war film's atmosphere should convince us that we are there. It should effortlessly put us on the front lines. This movie looks like it was filmed on a leftover or discarded set from a Rambo film. It's that bad. You get the sense that the jungle ceases to exist a mere two feet on either side of our view. The music is awful too. It's sappy and overbearing and utterly inappropriate. The dialogue clunks in most scenes.

The only performer who truly distinguishes themselves is Thung Thu Le as the poor girl who is abducted and raped. She doesn't speak English in the film, which means that the screenwriter can't interfere with her performance. She invents this poor girl simply with her eyes and mannerisms and it all seems very authentic and disturbing.

Too bad there's so much of the other crap. This movie is just a mess. An intriguing and potentially disturbing film that was lost somewhere in the translation. I blame the shitty script and direction. So should you.