DirectorBrian De Palma
Release Date(s)1989 (August 14, 2018)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Movies about the Vietnam War, such as Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Deer Hunter, have all proven to be both critically and financially successful. They all have excellent production value, superior acting, and big name directors attached to them, including Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, and Michael Cimino. Another outstanding director, Brian De Palma, who has given us timeless classics like Scarface, Dressed to Kill, and The Untouchables, directed his own Vietnam War film in 1989 entitled Casualties of War.
Based upon the true story of an incident that took place in 1966 on Hill 192 in Vietnam, Casualties of War tells the story (in flashback) of a squad of soldiers led by sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn) who, along with corporal Clark (Don Harvey) and privates Hatcher (John C. Reilly), Diaz (John Leguizamo), and Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), abduct, rape, and eventually kill an innocent, young girl (Thuy Thu Le). Eriksson, the youngest of the squad, is torn between his loyalty to the group and doing what he feels is right. He refuses the sergeant’s orders, not wanting to be involved with what they’re doing, which causes a rift among them. Fighting the odds, as well as every high-ranking officer who tells him to just forget about it, Eriksson is determined to tell the truth to anyone who will listen about what he witnessed that day and bring the other soldiers to justice.
Shot in both Thailand and in San Francisco, Causalties of War is another Brian De Palma tour de force. While it’s usually classified as a war film, the main crux of the story is not about fighting Vietnamese soldiers, but the morality play between the main characters. De Palma expertly conveys the difficulties and the consequences of speaking out against one’s own military, making Eriksson’s detractors feel like real villains. And no matter how patriotic you are, it’s still a tough film to absorb.
The acting is also nothing short of superb. Michael J. Fox, in a film that was a huge step away from the comedy films that he was primarily known for, is fantastic, showing off some of his best acting abilities, simply by using facial expressions to convey how tormented inside he is about the situation. Sean Penn is also in top form as the crazy and ruthless sergeant. Without any restraint or morality to his character, it’s rather easy to take a instant disliking to him. There’s also the wonderful musical score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. All of these components make it easy to see why Casualties of War is so well-regarded.
Casualties of War makes its North American Blu-ray debut from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment via BD-R, and while some parts of the film show a pale image, the picture quality as a whole is more than passable. Many of the scenes during the film have beautiful, vivid colors along with some remarkably strong, smooth detail to tree and grass-laden scenery. Reds, particularly during bloody shoot-outs, tends to be the strongest (not to mention the yellows and greens). Black levels are deep and skin tones are accurate, with greater levels of detail on the faces of the characters during close-ups. English 5.1 DTS-HD is the main audio selection with optional Spanish and French 5.1 DTS-HD tracks in tow. The lossless audio is lively with dialogue coming in loud and clear, while gunfire, explosions, and other action-oriented sounds are exceptionally potent. Optional English subtitles are also available for all three tracks.
The supplemental materials for this release include the two featurettes ported over from the DVD: The Making of Casualties of War, a 30-minute interview with director Brian De Palma, producer Art Linson, and editor Bill Pankow in which they discuss the movie’s background, and Eriksson’s War – A Conversation with Michael J. Fox, which is nearly 20 minutes of Fox reflecting upon the film. There are also six deleted scenes included: Corporal Clark Testifies, Oahn’s Sister’s, Testimony, Check the Treeline Hill & Eriksson, Interrogation of Eriksson, and an Extended Interrogation Scene. Rounding out the extras is the theatrical trailer. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Sony is using pressed discs for their manufactured on-demand program, so whatever qualms there are about them using BD-R discs, they can be put to rest.
I consider Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War essential viewing. Even if the war genre isn’t your cup of tea, the movie is far from traditional, if only because of De Palma. While it isn’t his standard fare, which tends to be more in the cult horror/thriller vein, fans should give this one a spin to see his work outside of his usual norm. The high definition presentation from Sony surpasses its DVD counterpart and is most definitely recommended!
- David Steigman