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September 08, 1989 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-09-08

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The Michigan Daily -Friday, September 8, 1989- Page 13

Casualties

of War:

Missing in action

BY TONY SILBER'
If you arrived recently from Planet
Mars and have visited your local
movie theater, you might think the
Vietnam War is still going on. With
such an abundance of films on the
subject, who would think the war has
been over for more than 15 years?
The latest installment in this in-
creasingly exhausted genre comes
from experienced director Brian
DePalma (The Untouchables,
Scarface). His contribution,
Casualties of War, is based on a true
story reported by Daniel Lang in
New Yorker magazine. The twist of
this film is that American soldiers
are portrayed as the bad guys in
Vietnam, a fresh, but not surprising,
view. The story involves the moral-
ity of soldiers kidnapping a
Vietnamese woman on a whim, bru-
tally raping her, and inevitably mur-
dering her.
Michael J. Fox leads the young
cast as Eriksson, the wet-behind-the-
ears, just three weeks in Vietnam
moral crusader who refuses to stand
by quietly and watch his fellow sol-
diers act in this detestable manner.
Sean Penn, out of jail, shares top
billing with Fox as Sgt. Meserve, a
cross between a young John Wayne
and a drunk James Cagney. He de-
vises the plan of savagery and acts as
the catalyst for all the violence that
his men do.
The seeds of a classic confronta-
tion seem to be in place: Fox as the

protaganist protector of all that is
good and right against Penn, the evil
and callous battle-worn killer. But
something goes wrong. DePalma has
miscalculated something. That con-
frontational chemistry between the
two characters that could potentially
light the film on fire never really ma-
terializes.
The potential success of
Casualties of War is dependent first
on delivering a controversial new
story from the depths of the Vietnam
experience, and that it does. But it
must also evolve as a characters'
film, a battle of philosophies, a war
within a war, and in that respect it
falls short.
In devoting the film to its story
instead of its characters, DePalma has
committed a key error in his direc-
tion. Based upon many of his films
from the past, this is understandable,
but there are two exceptions: Scarface

and Carrie. These are films which fo-
cus on one character. But Casualties
needs to focus on two, and regretfully
it does not.
There are problems with both
Fox's and Penn's performances, but
more so with Penn's. With a base-
ball-sized wad of tobacco in his
mouth, it's no surprise that half his
lines are mumbled and ridiculous-
sounding. Fox doesn't fit nicely into
the Vietnam mold. He's too proper
and removed, but this attempt at
drama is admirable and encouraging.
In order to count the number of
Vietnam films that have been made
in the last five years, you need an
abacus. In order to count the number
of great, memorable films in that
group, you need but one hand.
Casualties of War will have plenty
of company in the abacus group.
CASUALTIES OF WAR is now
showing at Showcase Cinemas.

Madonna-less Sean Penn and laugh track-less Michael J. Fox play, respectively, a bad guy and a
good guy in Brian DePalma's latest magnum opus, Casualties of War. DePalma's handling of the
ever-popular Vietnam theme is disappointing - his misdirection sabotages the film.

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