Follow TV Tropes


Film / Casualties of War

Go To

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 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.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After being abused, seeing an innocent, traumatized woman murdered in front of him, and nearly being killed by a grenade his squad sticks in the latrine, Eriksson finally brains Clark with a shovel and scares the hell out of the others to get them to leave him alone.
  • 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.
  • Kill the Cutie: Tran Thi Oanh, who is ultimately stabbed and shot to death.
  • Lima Syndrome: When Meserve orders the squad to kidnap a Vietnamese girl, Eriksson's objections are ignored, and while the rest of the squad takes turns raping Oanh, Eriksson decides to show kindness to Oanh and gain her trust, planning to go AWOL and return Oanh to her family, which is stopped when Meserve sends Clark to retrieve Eriksson and Oanh and she is stabbed and shot to death.
  • New Meat: Eriksson begins the film as a rookie, but in around three weeks, 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: A Brian De Palma trademark. There are two tense oners shot in a similar manner to 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.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Although the rape is inexcusable, all of the soldiers are clearly shell shocked, which is especially shown in the court martial scene, where Clark accuses the judge of aiding the Viet Cong by throwing them in the stockade. His defence of his rape is pathetic, in that he tries to throw the blame on the job, but he is speaking hesitantly and in a broken tone. When the judge rips him with murder, he coldly justifies it with "kill or be killed".
  • 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.
  • Villain Has a Point: During the court martial, Clark accuses the Army of disregarding soldiers' lives, and not understanding the true horror of what they endured. While it certainly does not excuse rape and murder of an innocent woman, he does make that point clear, and the fact the judge ignores it does back it up. Truth in Television, as many veterans of Vietnam did indeed believe that the army didn't care about them.