Casualties of War: SE Brian DePalma

Opening just as the 1980s Vietnam spasm was ending, Casualties of War got the bum’s rush at the box office and promptly disappeared. Too bad; it may be the best of that short-lived genre, taking its "loss of innocence” theme and putting it to a moral test that went far beyond where other films of the time were willing to go. The fact-based story stars Michael J. Fox as Pvt. Eriksson, a fresh recruit who’s attached to the unit of Sgt. Meserve (Sean Penn), who voices his boys’ frustration and anger at the state of the war by kidnapping a Vietnamese girl and using her as a sexual plaything. Eriksson is shocked but does nothing to stop them and ultimately has to stand by as they shoot her dead. But bringing them to justice will prove difficult, as nobody seems to care enough to bring them up on charges. Where the other films in the Vietnam cycle were content to treat their subjects as betrayed children, Casualties shows what happens when the children betray themselves — nobody becomes accountable and any sort of behaviour is possible. Far from providing the healing film that America kept going back for, DePalma instead chose to open wounds and point out that horrible stress does not, in fact, justify using innocent bystanders as your personal punching bag. And given that we’re in a time of just such selfish retaliation by America (and an attendant quagmire unseen since the days of the ‘Nam), the message couldn’t be timelier or more necessary. Certain aesthetic lapses may blunt the impact (such as a bit too much of Penn chewing scenery), but the cumulative impact will have you shaking long after you’ve seen it. Extras include an interview with Fox that’s packed with information and a remarkably thorough "making of” doc with extensive interviews with director DePalma. (Sony)