Film / Casualties of War

Casualties of War is a 1989 Vietnam War film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo, Don Harvey and Thuy Thu Le (in her first and only role). It was based on the actual incident on Hill 192.

In 1966 in Vietnam, a squad of five American soldiers, lead by Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn), kidnap a young Vietnamese woman named Oanh (Thuy Thu Le) from her village and take her on a patrol, making her their sex slave. Of the five men, only one - Pvt. Max Eriksson (Michael J Fox) - refuses to take part in Oanh's rape and torture, and is determined to bring his fellow soldiers to justice, no matter what the cost.

Ennio Morricone composed the score. It's also notable for being the film debut of John C. Reilly, and for featuring John Leguizamo in a very early role (his second film, and his first major role).

In 2006, an Extended Cut was released, including two scenes near the end featuring Eriksson in court.

This film contains examples of:

  • Anti-Villain: As crooked as Meserve becomes in the film, he did begin the film saving Erikson's life; and he describes in great detail his struggle some time ago to save a Vietnamese girl from dying.
  • Big Bad: Meserve is the closest the film has to one.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Eriksson succeeds in exposing Meserve, Clark, Hatcher and Diaz, and finds peace after a chance encounter with a girl who strongly resembles Oanh (played by the same actress, at that). However, that doesn't change that Oanh was brutally murdered. And looking up the real story reveals that the soldiers responsible for the crime ultimately got off rather lightly.
  • California Doubling: Thailand for Vietnam.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Oanh is stabbed repeatedly by Clark, then tries to escape but is shot numerous times to death and falls off the bridge screaming.
  • Dirty Coward: Antonio Díaz. He is one of the few besides Eriksson who hesitates to rape Oanh but changes his mind due to the possible consequences of the squad to him.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Meserve.
  • Kill the Cutie: Oanh.
  • From Bad to Worse: Oanh keeps getting sexually abused by the soldiers and Eriksson can't do very much to help her. Then she is shot to death.
  • New Meat: Eriksson begins the film as a rookie, but in around three weaks, he treats another rookie like this.
  • Morality Chain: Brownie eventually reveals to be this for his friends before most of them fall off the deep end except Eriksson. Also see Small Role, Big Impact below.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Hill and Lieutenant Reilly, who both initially demanded Eriksson to sweep the rape and murder incident under the rug to prevent an international incident and possibly to protect Eriksson from the wrath of Meserve's vengeance if he ever want to retaliate against him for exposing him and his accomplices. Meserve and his fellow rapists follows this most definitely.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The whole film revolves around the kidnap and repeated rape of an innocent Vietnamese girl by a squad of American soldiers.
  • The Oner: DePalma trademark. There are two tense oners shot in a similar manner to the previous The Untouchables: when the soldiers are about to kidnap the poor Oanh and when Clark attempts to kill Eriksson.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Subverted, very few people in the local American command hierarchy seem to care and all about the crime even when Eriksson reports it and it is at first swept under the rug. Erikson, after the attempt on his life is even prompted to tell Meserve "I told 'em, oh yeah, I told 'em, AND THEY DON'T CARE!"
  • Scenery Porn: Thailand, standing in for Vietnam, is beautifully shot.
  • Silent Whisper: Near the end of the film, after being court martialed, Meserve stops by Eriksson before leaving the room and whispers something into his ear. We don't hear it, but it was undoubtedly a threat.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Brownie is killed very early on, but the anguish and stress caused in no small part by his death strongly affects the behavior of some of his friends later in the film.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Meserve and Clark in particular.
  • Unfriendly Fire: To keep Eriksson from exposing them, the rest of his squad stick a grenade in the latrine he is about to use, but he narrowly manages to escape.
  • War Is Hell: And it can twist decent men into monsters.