Humpbacked and Crooked

Vietnam war films entered their own conflict throughout the 1980s. The Rambo series escalated into a victory fantasy, challenging the idea America lost a war. Films like Predator retconned combat through sci-fi trappings. Then came Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Casualties of War – films determined to display a brutal reality against the shrewd, even delusional fiction in which muscled heroes secure a win.

Casualties of War became almost a lost film, culturally anyway. Although headed by Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick and Oliver Stone seemingly trounced this grueling based-in-truth saga. It’s easier to accept troops caught in a mangled operation would descend toward madness and kill unflinchingly rather than enact such a personal cruelty as depicted in Casualties of War.

Causalities of War does it best by minimizing the grandiosity

Plus, it’s led by Michael J. Fox, an actor associated with easy entertainment and pop blockbusters. Here he’s a chain smoker, guzzling beers, gunning down opposing forces, if still the hero. Imagine what Vietnam did to soldiers – once easy going, then forced to fight brutally in a country they barely understood. In that, Fox is flawlessly cast.

As Casualties of War opens, humanity is already lost. Kubrick staged his opening act in Full Metal Jacket as the descent, and Apocalypse Now is entirely framed around deepening madness. Casualties of War doesn’t take that time. Immediately, Sean Penn’s Meserve is high on slaughter and vengeance. There’s no baseline, and Meserve come across as awkwardly overplayed. That’s not the intent, but Casualties of War’s focus lies more on the cruelty than character.

Fox’s Erikkson becomes a hero for his unwillingness to let go. He’s emotionally broken after witnessing a torturous kidnapping, rape, and murder of an innocent Vietnamese woman, feeling locked in a stubborn chain-of-command system seeking to bury this truth amid heated public animosity toward the conflict. Causalities of War doesn’t hide anything. Screaming and bloodshed show a woman terrified, anguished, and helpless.

Like Erikkson, there’s no shield against the crime for an audience either. In offsetting images of Stallone toting a machine gun, Causalities of War does it best by minimizing the grandiosity, instead creating a personal perspective that’s all too authentic. And the cynicism in this story’s hopelessness cements the tragedy of Vietnam, and how few heroes made it out with their empathy intact.

Video

Ugly stuff from Mill Creek this time around, hindered by a combination of factors. In sharing a disc with another two-hour movie (Birdy), space is nearing the format’s limits. That means compression, and plenty of it in spots. Smoke creates chunky patches of blocking. Depth of field shots break down into banding.

Then comes the source, voided of grain and its natural texture. Casualties of War looks absolutely smothered by DNR. With that, the detail evaporates, leaving behind the waxiness indicative of messy masters like this. The glossiness doesn’t allow the film stock to show at all.  At least it’s a clean stock, revealing no damage or dirt.

Come nightfall, black crush obliterates shadows. Partly the cinematography attempting to add unease in the jungle, the rest falls on the disc and/or the master. A few shots become hard to even see. Contrast is at least more stable and pure. Bland color zips life from the jungle scenery, if fitting to the movie’s tone.

Audio

Surprisingly bold DTS-HD 5.1 creates a convincingly thick soundstage. Pleasingly clean fidelity and extensive positional use belies Casualties of War’s age. When gunfire erupts, bullets spread and fray trees, all of that action well considered. Rain fills in too, convincingly remixed as to maintain the source audio’s purity.

Mortar shells and grenades blow up, impressive in their weight. Low-end power can stand against a few modern action flicks in intensity. Bass response showcases range, presenting dense, thick effects and substantial rumble.

Extras

Nothing, as this shares a disc alongside Birdy.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Casualties of War
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

A grueling Vietnam that offsets a number of historically inverse films from the era, Casualties of War is a difficult watch but essential in its reality.

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