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Casualties of War (1989)

R  |   |  Drama, History, War  |  18 August 1989 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 31,112 users  
Reviews: 124 user | 67 critic

During the Vietnam War, a soldier finds himself the outsider of his own squad when they unnecessarily kidnap a female villager.


(as Brian DePalma)


(book), (screenplay)
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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Thuy Thu Le ...
Lt. Reilly
Capt. Hill
Agent #1
John Linton ...
Agent #2
Al Shannon ...


During the Vietnam war, a girl is taken from her village by five American soldiers. Four of the soldiers rape her, but the fifth refuses. The young girl is killed. The fifth soldier is determined that justice will be done. The film is more about the realities of war, rather than this single event. Written by Colin Tinto <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Inspired by a true event, that the army never saw it coming See more »


Drama | History | War


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

18 August 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Pecados de guerra  »

Box Office


$22,500,000 (estimated)


$18,671,317 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (extended)

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints)| (35 mm prints)


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Released exactly one day after Robert De Niro and Sean Penn's birthday. See more »


Meserve's arm position changes when confronting the MP who will not let the group go into town. See more »


Meserve: Oh, you wanna take an attack posture wit' me? Yeah, you got a weapon. Clark got a weapon, Clark got a knife! We all got weapons! Anybody can blow anybody away, any second. Which is the way it ought to be. Always.
See more »


Referenced in The 100 Greatest War Films (2005) See more »


Hold On I'm Coming
Written by David Porter & Isaac Hayes
Performed by Sam & Dave
Courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp.
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

the brutality of any war - inhumanity
21 February 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Casualties of War is one of the most powerful anti-war movies. Note that I didn't mention Vietnam in that sentence, but just anti-war, period. Around the time of the mid to late 1980s many Vietnam war movies were flying out, The Killing Fields, Platoon, and best of them (not counting Apocalypse Now from the 70s) was Full Metal Jacket. What a lot of these movies have in common though is that they're not simply about Vietnam, but about the war experience. Of course sometimes the context of the times has to be taken in, such as it being the 'baby-boomer' generation where drugs and rock and roll were apart of the down-time. That and getting some Vietnam women for sex on the side. The themes are meant to be universal, or at least capture the nature of a platoon mind-set, of what it's like to be a soldier.

Brian De Palma's film is set in Vietnam, like those films, but it could take place during any war. It peels an uncomfortable layer of the soldier's experience that does need to be told - it's not pretty, it's not sentimental, it is what it is. Some soldiers during wars, not just Vietnam but others, take out casualties that are not really the enemies. And for De Palma the brutal rape and murder of a girl, an innocent one, was just such a horrible story that needed to be told. His film is full of heartfelt emotion, but it doesn't show on the actor's faces, save for Michael J. Fox. It's about an ugly subject, and so the actors (Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo) play precisely unsympathetic characters, to one degree or another. They don't start out that way though, and that makes it too complex to ignore as a polemic.

It's about a squad, led by Penn's Sergeant, who decides to take a leave for a short while of the usual soldier duties to take a girl into the jungle and rape and murder her. Fox's PFC thinks he's kidding, but boy he isn't. They drag her miles and miles, and it becomes a morality play. Again, this is complicated: earlier in the film we saw two crucial things, that Penn's character saved Fox from death by the enemy in a tight spot, and that one of the squad's best people gets killed quite suddenly as everyone's just standing around talking (this is, truly, a shocking moment to have in any film from it coming at a mundane moment). He doesn't start off rotten, Penn's Sergeant, nor even the other guys like Don Harvey's Chuck, but as they get closer to the inevitable situation "out there" as they say, it takes on a ghastly inhumanity, and the kind of peer pressure that one might see in a DARE drug video, only here there's no messing around. Especially in the aftermath, with a "don't care" policy the army takes, for at least a little while.

Casualties of War is skillfully directed and unflinching in its emotional reach. When we see Fox, in some desperation of not being able to save the Vietnamese girl from the rape, try to help her and, subsequently, fail to escape, it's really shocking. Not because of what doesn't happen, per-say, but that after all of these scenes of the troop in this group-think, and the torture of this woman, there's humanity again, or something close to it (it was hard for me not to tear up a little when he finally communicated with her, "Mama-san"). But, interestingly, De Palma and his actors don't need to do all of the heavy lifting in the dramatic department. Ennio Morricone comes on in many scenes with a musical score that, in a way, confronts the audience. Do we dare not be moved when the music swells? Is it manipulative? Possibly. But it takes a master like Morricone to do it so well in this context - only Days of Heaven can come close or top it to its haunting elegy of the heart.

This is an important film to look at, and it hasn't dated. Not to mention a fantastic performance from Michael J. Fox, whose subtlety in many scenes, his restraint, his character's face just pained in looking on at the horror of the situation unfolding, is just as great, if not more convincing, than Penn's surly hero-cum-villain. Another war is hell movie? Sure, but directed and acted with a modicum of believability and humanity.

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