1980s Casualties of War (1989)

Published on December 14th, 2007 | by Chris


Casualties of War (1989)

Reviewed by:
On December 14, 2007
Last modified:October 6, 2012


Casualties of War is a top-notch example of what an anti-war movie should be about. From a film standpoint and a classical storytelling standpoint.

Casualties of War (1989)Where do I even begin?  With the recent release of Redacted, director Brian DePalma has resurrected the spectre of the evil that men do during wartime.  Without going into great detail as to the failure of Redacted, I'll rather go into the huge success that his earlier telling of the true and near-identical story, Casualties of War, is.

Fresh into the Nam is PFC Eriksson (Michael J. Fox), who witnesses (along with the rest of his squad) his friend "Brownie" killed by an enemy sniper.

His squad, Sgt. Meserve (Sean Penn), Clark (Don Harvey), and "Hatch" (John C. Reilly) decide to take revenge by kidnapping a Vietnamese girl (Thuy Thu Le) and, to put it kindly, treat her as "the spoils of war."  Eriksson stands as the voice of reason of the bunch, against it from the beginning, and refuses to take part in any of the evil deeds.  Brownie's replacement, Diaz (John Leguizamo) plays the "on the fence" character, who eventually (whether out of fear or just peer pressure) also damns himself with his actions.

When the girl eventually threatens to expose them in their real mission, Eriksson fires off a few rounds to prevent her from being killed, and in the melee, she's killed anyway.  He returns to basecamp, and reports the matter to his superiors, Lt. Reilly (Ving Rhames) and Capt. Hill (Dale Dye.)  The system doesn't do anything, and after being nearly fragged by the squad, he eventually tells his tale to a nosy chaplain, who apparently escalates the matter up the chain of command.  Hollywood military adviser Dale Dye takes on a more prominent role than his usual cameo here as the representative of the military status quo.

The squad is convicted and sentenced.  But the true redemption of Eriksson happens sometime latter as he helps a young Vietnamese student much later in life, and she tells him "its over now."

Casualties of War isn't exactly one of those movies you enjoy watching, at least not for the usual reasons.  As the typical morality-play it succeeds and surpasses.  The sole voice of justice and decency prevails, and there are some choice quotes by Eriksson that define the essence of what this picture is about, such as "Everybody's acting like we can do anything and it don't matter what we do. Maybe we gotta' be extra careful because maybe it matters more than we even know."

The performances are just stellar, from Fox's character, to Penn's madman, Reilly's typical dipstick, Harvey's psycho, and Leguizamo's floundering....  They each represent aspects of the fog and character of war that exist, whether we like it or not.  The resulting attempt by the system to suppress these evil deeds, and the obvious oxymorons (we're *supposed* to be killers!) that present themselves in the trial....  all make Casualties of War a top-notch example of what an anti-war movie should be about.  From a film standpoint and a classical storytelling standpoint.

It's plain to see that Redacted is nothing more than an ugly re-hash of Casualties of War.  Yes they are both based on true stories, and its unfortunate that nothing's changed as it relates to the awfulness of war.  Where Casualties differs though is in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, and in the redemption of the main character.  Where Redacted ends with the one "good guy" crying in his beer and a slideshow of bloody corpses.  How the mighty have fallen.

Casualties of War is also available through Amazon's Unbox online video store, but I recommend the DVD or catching it on HDNet Movies instead for the full effect.

Casualties of War (Unrated Extended Cut) Casualties of War (Unrated Extended Cut)
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Hailed by critics as a masterpiece, CASUALTIES OF WAR is based on the true story of a squad of soldiers caught in the moral quagmire of wartime Vietnam. Witness to a vile crime, Private Eriksson (Michael J...

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)
Brand: Sony
Manufacturer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Original Release Date:
  • John Reilly
  • Don Harvey
  • Michael J. Fox
  • Sean Penn
  • John Leguizamo


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Average Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional movie, June 17, 2017
Idiosyncracy (Happily Sad, USA) - See all my reviews
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Penn and Fox are stellar in this movie. A classic Vietnam film with a bunch of memorable quotes. A must see for Vietnam War movie fans.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, July 8, 2017
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This review is from: Casualties of War (Unrated Extended Cut) (DVD)
if there can be a good war story, this is it, Micheal J. Fox fives a food performance!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, September 22, 2017
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this incident is recounted in Ken Burns documentary harrowing not much else to say
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Casualties of War (1989) Chris

Summary: Casualties of War is a top-notch example of what an anti-war movie should be about. From a film standpoint and a classical storytelling standpoint.


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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.

2 Responses to Casualties of War (1989)

  1. Christine says:

    Hello! I received notice of this post in my Google Alerts for John Leguizamo. This review is wonderfully written and I was wondering if I could have permission to re-post it in three communities I own on Livejournal.com, Greatestjournal.com, and Yahoo.com dedicated to John. I would make sure to give you full credit, of course, and include a link back to the original blog post. I hope you’ll consider letting me re-post the review – it was a great read!

  2. A pair of war movies make their DVD debuts today, without any further….In The Valley of Elah (2007)A career officer (Jones) and his wife (Sarandon) work with a police
    detective (Theron) to uncover the truth behind their son’s
    disappearance following h

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