Casualties of War

Year: 1989
Studio: Columbia
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Art Linson
Writer: Daniel Lang/David Rabe
Cast: Michael J Fox, Sean Penn, John C Reilly, John Leguizamo, Ving Rhames

A different kettle of fish from the other late 80's Vietnam war movies. Rather than use a few atypical characters (Platoon) to depict the whole war it zeroes right in on a single event that - for De Palma - sums up the horror adequately (and virtually without exception, he's right).

A platoon of solders who are too young, dumb, horny and frustrated for lack of action, take a young villager girl hostage in order to rape her at will. Only one (Fox) stands up to their gang mentality and the superior rank of his sergeant (Penn), and after her murder he pursues justice - the last vestige of humanity and decency in the face of the animal brutality he's known in the war.

Upsetting the military status quo (his commanding officer tells him to forget it - it's part of war), alienating himself and ultimately threatening his life and sense of peace, he secures the dead girls retribution.

Seemingly desperate to stop playing Marty McFly, Fox is a great actor with the right script, but it's a very big ask when he's so clean cut and cute - a curse that ensured his film career took a deep dive after Back to the Future (with films like The Hard Way, Give Me a Break and The Concierge) that only Spin City could resurrect ten years later. Penn showed early brilliance that has shone ever since and he remains one of his generation's best actors. Powerful, brutal and brilliant.

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