Casualties Of War


D: Brian de Palma

Columbia (Art Linson)

USA 🇺🇸 1989

113 mins [extended version: 119 mins]


W: David Rabe [based on the book by Daniel Lang]

DP: Stephen H. Burum 

Ed: Bill Pankow

Mus: Ennio Morricone

Michael J. Fox (Pvt. Max Eriksson), Sean Penn (Sgt. Tony Meserve), Don Patrick Harvey (Cpl. Thomas E. Clark), John C. Reilly (Pvt. Herbert Hatcher), John Leguizamo (Pvt. Antonio Diaz), Thuy Thu Le (Than Thy Oanh)

"The first casualty of war is innocence" was the marketing tagline for the 1986 film Platoon, and its a sentiment which could be used perfectly to summarise this 1989 Vietnam War drama.

Michael J. Fox plays the conscientious objector Max Eriksson, a rookie Private serving a tour of duty under the instruction of the hotheaded Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn).

On a routine mission, Meserve and his men unnecessarily abduct a Vietnamese woman to subsequently rape & murder. 

Eriksson cannot keep it secret and takes the matter to higher authorities, despite being told that his objection will make no difference and the other soldiers' actions are simply collateral damage as part of the conflict.

Based on true events which were penned into a novel by Daniel Lang, the film does capture the setting well, but it does have quite a televisual style and doesn't do as good a job capturing the horrors of war as well as the forementioned Platoon (which was good enough to be named as the Academy Awards' Best Picture of 1986).

Still, it's very well paced and the screenplay is well structured, beginning in the present day where Eriksson is still haunted by his memories, before a flashback recounts the experience.

Sean Penn is excellent as the erratic sergeant, but Michael J. Fox feels a little miscast here, possibly because for most of the 1980's he was cast as high school students or yuppie types.

Nevertheless, it's a decent war movie with a decent cast and good production values. It's no Platoon though.


The cast of Casualties of War
The cast of Casualties of War