Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., Jan. 20
Casualties of War
- Rated R
A Vietnam atrocity film about the kidnap, gang-rape, and murder of a pitifully coughing village girl by four American foot soldiers, with one abstainer. David Rabe's screenplay is compactly constructed in its setting-up phase, so that everything we need to know about relations between the Americans and natives, as well as about any extenuating circumstances in the case, is laid plainly in front of us. It makes a good refresher course. The combat scenes, especially, could well turn out to be "memorable," either because the idea is sufficiently novel (a soldier sinking into the earth, his legs dangling helplessly in a V.C. underground tunnel) or else because Brian De Palma's strained direction raises an old idea to a pitch of Opening Night intensity (the death of a veteran on the last lap of his tour of duty: not so much a Hollywood cliché as a universal wartime verity). Taste, as always with De Palma, is a separate issue. His appropriation of Hitchcock's time-stretching techniques has never seemed more obscene and sadistic than at the moment, or moments, of the victim's martyrdom. (Yet in this scene, as in the death-of-the-veteran, there is a striking example of De Palma's trademark trick shot combining an extreme closeup and an extreme long shot in a single frame.) Of course, De Palma is in the advantageous position from which he can fend off charges of excessiveness with the countercharge that anyone who finds it excessive must be guilty, like the four soldiers, of undervaluing Oriental life. But that just fits in with the larger point: De Palma has always had a streak of the bully in him. Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn. 1989.