Wednesday, May 10, 2006


One more link for the week: Film critic Charles Taylor, late of Salon, writes this week in the New York Observer about the release of the extended cut of Casualties of War, which he calls “Brian De Palma’s masterpiece and one of the greatest of all American movies.” This is an opinion with which I happen to concur, although I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch this film again in a very long time, despite its stylistic-thematic brilliance, because the pain it presents is so raw, inglorious and horrific. However, the arrival of this new cut is definitely an excellent occasion to submit again to the film’s agonies, its insights and, of course, its resonance and pertinence to us as we find ourselves mired, as a nation, in a new age of war.

Taylor: “It’s a blessing that it took Mr. De Palma 20 years to get the movie made (if only for the fact that he got Michael J. Fox’s phenomenal performance as Eriksson). I mean no slight to the director’s powers of discernment to say that no matter how good it might have been, a Vietnam movie on this subject released while America was still in Vietnam would have been taken as a confirmation of the self-loathing that crept into American movies during the Vietnam/Watergate era…. The plural of the title is a clue. Casualties of War remains the only American film about the Vietnam War that addresses what the Vietnamese suffered.”

If you haven’t seen Casualties of War (and the movie’s slight box-office when it was released in 1989 suggests that many haven’t), steel up your nerve and rent it. It is easily one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen on any subject, a serious engagement with issues and ideas, rendered most vividly cinematic and reaching for an intended emotional and intellectual effect that most American movies would cross a crowded freeway to avoid. Taylor’s fine piece tells part of the story. The movie says it all.

(Again, thanks to David Hudson at Green Cine Daily for highlighting Taylor's article on his invaluable site.)

UPDATE 5/10 5:37 p.m.: In the Comments section below, Michael S. Smith and I both expressed a desire to know more about the differences between the original theatrical cut of Casualties of War and this new "extended cut." Thanks to the magic of the Internet, here's a link to a review of the Extended Cut DVD from DVD Times which serves as a thoughtful review of the film and a detailed account of the material that has been added. According to this article, this extended cut was approved by Brian De Palma and represents his intended version of the film.


Michael said...

Yeah, Dennis, I'm in agreement here; it's a deeply powerful film, so much so that I still remember some of it, even though I saw it only once in 1989 and was fairly young then. Like you, I don't know if I'd want to revisit it because it is so jolting; but then the existence of an extended cut makes me think that I might.

I particularly liked this point in Taylor's piece:

"The actions of Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) and the other men in the platoon ... are not an example of American G.I.’s as imperialist goons, but of the state that war reduces men to. Behind Meserve and company’s actions are the casual atrocities committed in every war, evidenced in a 1943 Life magazine photo of a young woman on the World War II home front regarding a boyfriend’s letter written on a Japanese skull, and evidenced in the photos from Abu Ghraib."

Dennis Cozzalio said...

My only wish for Taylor's article is that it would have discussed a bit of what makes this an "extended" cut of the movie. Otherwise, it's very well written and manages to cogently discuss how De Palma married his mastery of technique to the story not only to amplify the tragedy of it but to embue it with a personal meaning and understanding of the horror experienced by Oanh, the Vietnamese girl, and Erikkson, the sergeant played by Michael J. Fox, who tries to save her. I like how Taylor casually addresses the age-old question of De Palma's misogyny, and how the holes left by the deaths of the women in his films are what's important. That's certainly never been truer than in Casualties of War.

Michael said...

A comparison/analysis of the original release and the extended version certainly would have been nice. But, you're right, overall it's a good review, with very smart points about the place of women. (And thanks for linking to the piece -- I might have overlooked it otherwise.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Michael: Here's a review from a UK site called DVD Times that looks at the Extended Cut in depth, with particular emphasis on the differences between this and the theatrical cut. This is a review of a Region 2 disc which the reviewer says is indentical to a previously reviewed Region 1 disc. I haven't read the review myself yet, but this site is a pretty reliable, well-written source. I look forward to a break from work today so I can peruse this. If anything strikes you about it, please let me know. I'm beginning a list of films I want to review at length, and this is definitely one of them.

Michael said...

Dennis, thanks so much for the link to that DVD Times review. It's well done, with a number of very interesting points about De Palma's moral vision and about issues of culpability (including the culpability of viewers). As you'll notice when reading the review, there isn't (at least apparently) too much in the extended cut that seems to change the film; the extension includes a few previously deleted scenes and some longer courtroom footage -- perhaps enough to extend context but not enough to alter the overall tone or effect of the film. I'm now more interested in seeing this and think I'll add it to my Netflix queue.