- Casualties of War is a horrific true story- horrific even for a war film
- It is shot in Thailand as a stand in for Vietnam
- Michael J. Fox plays Eriksson (and does admirable work) and for just about the entire running time of the film he is pitted up against Sean Penn’s Meserve. Don Harvey plays Meserve’s prime stooge Clark. John C. Reilly (in his first of many archiveable films) plays Hatcher. Reilly must have been buddies with Penn because most of Reilly’s early roles (We’re No Angels, State of Grace) star Penn.
- Early in the film there is a very fine long dissolve of Fox’s character on the subway as the story transports back to the war.
- During an early action sequence, the camera actual tracks below the ground as Fox’s feet dangle in an open Vietcong tunnel.
- There was a boom in the war genre after Oliver Stone’s Platoon in 1986. Full Metal Jacket was in 1987 (Casualties uses the same “this is for fighting, this is for fun” line which feels like a copy in 1989). De Palma even marries the helicopter noise with a ceiling fan in an early scene (certainly feels like Apocalypse Now). Michael J. Fox is Charlie Sheen from Platoon– he is brand new- “cherry”. Sean Penn is the Tom Berenger character- perhaps even more of a psychopath. This is the sensitive versus the sadistic. De Palma’s world is even darker than Oliver Stone (the two worked together on Scarface earlier in the decade – 1983)- in De Palma’s realm, there is no Willem Dafoe- good angel on the shoulder- character.
- Sean Penn is still not yet thirty years old here. He is leaning hard into his characters tics (chew in) and accent. It is not a bad performance but given the material it is not a great one either- it may have just been too much for Penn in 1989 (he would reteam with De Palma for a better performance in 1993 with Carlito’s Way). The sinister looking Don Harvey (a poor man’s Kevin Bacon) is well cast (he is evil as well in Eight Men Out the year before in 1988).
- De Palma holds a slanted camera angle (and a long shot distance) from Fox’s point of view for an extended time during the appalling rape scene/incident.
- At the 91-minute mark De Palma uses the whip pan, and then a point-of-view Giallo tracking shot as a hand extends from the camera to reveal a grenade.
- The score from Ennio Morricone is not on the level of his work a few years prior with De Palma for The Untouchables (1987).
- Recommend / Highly Recommend border
This might sound crazy but that picture of Sean Penn on this page where he is shaving. I actually thought it was Chris Penn. And yes I realize Chris Penn weighted like 50 more pounds (at least) but that face. This is also the earliest Sean Penn film I have seen.
@James Trapp- Chris and Sean did look very similar for sure in the 1980s before Chris’ weight gain. If you ever catch At Close Range (amazing film) they play brothers- and certainly look alike.
I agree this was especially brutal and that is not an easy distinction to earn for a Vietnam War film. Admittingly I have seen little of Michael J Fox outside of Back to the Future but I was quite impressed here. He is believable in his agony and does not overact. Sean Penn is vicious here, not his best performance but undoubtedly effective for that role.
As a Brian De Palma fan this was a surprise. If not for his signature split diopter shots I probably would not have ever guessed it was one of his films. This is impressive though, and while I certainly don’t put it in the upper echelon on Vietnam films it is definitely worth another viewing at some point.