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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Casualties of War: Extended Cut (1989)

"I mean, just because each of us might, at any second, be blown away, everybody's acting like we can do anything, man."
- Private Eriksson (Michael J. Fox)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: April 24, 2006

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn
Other Stars: John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo, Ving Rhames, Thuy Thu Le
Director: Brian De Palma

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic violence, rape, adult situations and language)
Run Time: 01h:58m:58s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 043396137271
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B+ B

DVD Review

Brian De Palma has fielded more than his fair share of criticism, with critics harassing him over the years for being overly stylistic and for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock. However, these accusations often overshadow this underrated director's talents, possibly keeping many filmgoers away from his better, more daring pictures. De Palma has had a few box office hits, though, and he's also behind some of the most important films of the last three decades. While Carrie, Dressed to Kill, or Scarface come to De Palma's in filmography, 1989's Casualties of War is an important part of his interesting career.

Private Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) isn't your garden variety grunt, but this young man is in the midst of a tour of duty in Vietnam. After having been saved from an enemy tunnel by his superior, Sergeant Meserve (Sean Penn), Eriksson finds himself involved in a crime that extends beyond the war. Meserve and the rest of his men kidnap a young Vietnamese woman (Thuy Thu Le), whom they take turns raping and beating. Eriksson doesn't participate in this abuse, and faces a nearly impossible decision: whether to intervene and save her or stand by his fellow troops.

Casualties of War had to overcome an onslaught of Vietnam War films in the 1980s such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, but is a more touching morality tale, offering a more intimate feeling. The film excels despite the lack of battle action by being an intense character study chronicling one man's fight with his conscience. In inspiring the viewer ponder how they might behave in a similar scenario, De Palma allows us to invest fully in each of his characters. He touches on many tough issues, but the unflinching account of what happens to this innocent girl grabs us by the throat, and really never lets go.

De Palma left out many of his signature touches as well, such as long tracking shots and off-the-wall (sometimes literally) camera angles. Rather, he uses straightforward camera work, (the numerous close-ups are still in play) and focusing on substance over style. I miss the director's visual flair, but his choice of restraint is understandable.

Having not seen Casualties of War since its original home video release, I was pleasantly surprised to find some of today's biggest actors in bit roles—John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights), John Leguizamo (Land of the Dead), and Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) appear as young soldiers. It's always great to stumble upon early performances, watching for the flashes of brilliance and potential in these young actors.

This new extended cut is about five minutes longer than the theatrical version, consisting mostly of footage that was included as "deleted scenes" on the original DVD. Some other changes have been made, though, including the color presentation of Eriksson's initial interrogation, a longer cross-examination of that character, and more from Corporal Clark during the trial. De Palma's specific approval of this versionfilm makes this new DVD an easy purchase for the filmmaker's fans.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer was a nice surprise. Crystal clear, highly-detailed images dominate the screen, while contrast and shadow levels are well-handled. A bright, vivid color scheme is in play, with the greens of the jungle and other Vietnam-era colors looking very realistic. Fleshtones are accurate, as well, while most of the dirt and grain from previous home video releases have been eliminated.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Portugueseyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: This Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is mostly low key, but there are some action sequences where the surrounds and subwoofer spring to life. The bass is nice and aggressive, and the dynamic range is nice, but this is one of the more dialogue-driven war movies you'll come across. That dialogue is always crisp and easy to understand, though, meshing nicely with the rest of the audio elements.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Passenger, The Hunt For Eagle One, The Patriot (Extended Cut)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Eriksson's War - A Conversation with Michael J. Fox
Extras Review: Besides a trio of previews for other DVD releases, there is a pair of interesting features. Eriksson's War: A Conversation with Michael J. Fox is an 18-minute interview during which he discusses how he kept himself away from the other actors during filming to stay in character. He also goes into detail about the story, and working with Brian De Palma.

The Making of Casualties of War runs for 31 minutes, and includes recent talks with De Palma, producer Art Linson, and other cast and crew members. Nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process is touched upon here, making for a valuable, and informative documentary.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Underappreciated among the onslaught of Vietnam War movies back in the '80s, Brian De Palma's Casualties of War deserves a look, especially as this new extended cut is De Palma's preferred version. The disc is also boosted by a new video transfer and audio mix, and a couple of behind-the-scenes pieces that were available on the initial release.


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