Casualties of War

Based on true events described in a New Yorker magazine article by Daniel Lang in 1969, this film will make you feel anxiety, outrage, anger, relief and doubt. Not a pretty picture, but a necessary one.

The story begins at the time of President Nixon’s resignation. While riding peacefully on a bus, Ericksson (Michael J. Fox), has a flashback about a horrific event he experienced back in Vietnam. His fellow soldiers called him “a cherry” because he was the newest and most naive in their squad. Shortly after being there, he almost gets killed by falling into an enemy trap. Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn) saves Ericksson by risking his own life and from then on, a debt of gratitude becomes a heavy load on the young soldier’s mind and conscience.

Soon after that close call, Meserve takes his men on a hunt to abduct a young country girl from her village and family. They want to vent their frustrations with the war by using and disposing of one of their perceived enemies. They want Ericksson to join them. He fails to stop them. However, he can’t keep to himself the tragedy he witnesses and looks for a way to bring them to justice.

You will feel the protagonist’s agony from the first scene to the last one thanks to this 1988 riveting portrayal of the damage caused by war in the soldiers’ psyches and the resulting consequences.

Michael J. Fox’s acting opposite Sean Penn’s is a contrasting powerful depiction of these two characters. One is naive and sensitive, the other tainted and cold. The piercing music by Ennio Morricone is key in the scenes most difficult to watch.

Directed by Brian De Palma, this movie is about peer presure, the price of a clear conscience, the humanity of the ones considered enemies, and the question of where loyalty belongs. To watch this story, though brutal and painful, is a necessary lesson we all need to learn so it may never be repeated under our flag anywhere in the world.

Also by Brian De Palma: Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), Carlito’s Way (1993)

See Sean Penn also in: Milk (2008), Colors (1988)

See Michael J. Fox also in: Greedy (1994), Teen Wolf (1985)

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