By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: His past comes back.
Vietnam veteran Bill (James Woods) has moved back into civilian life while enjoying the quietness of the country with his girlfriend Martha (Patricia Joyce) and her infant son. One day in the dead of winter while Bill is away shopping two of his former war buddies Tony and Mike (Chico Martinez, Steve Railsback) come by for an unexpected visit. When Bill returns he is not happy to see them and when Martha asks him why he tells her of how while in Vietnam he had witnessed the two raping a woman and later he decided to report it, which got the two men sent to prison. Now that they are out he is afraid they may be looking for revenge. Tony insists that he’s forgiven Bill for what he did, but Mike’s intentions are much more ominous especially with the way he eyes Martha. As the night wears on the tensions mount until festering over into anger and mayhem.
The story is loosely based on an actual crime that occurred in Vietnam on November 19, 1966 when five American soldiers kidnapped and gang raped a 21-year-old Vietnamese woman who they later killed. One of the soldiers, who did not take part in the crime, but did witness it, reported the incident to his superiors, which eventually got the other men convicted and imprisoned.
The incident was first made into a movie in 1970 in Michael Verhoeven’s o.k. and then 19 years later Brian De Palma did another version of it called Casualties of War, which starred Michael J. Fox. This version differs from the other two in that it only alludes to the crime, but never shows it. Instead it hypothesis on what might’ve happened had those who were convicted came back to revisit the one that had turned them in.
Story wise the film works to a degree as it reveals things in layers, which helps hold the mystery and filming the majority of it inside one lonely, isolated house gives it an effectively claustrophobic feeling, but the production values are extremely low and resembles more someone’s lost home movie than a feature film directed by a one-time Hollywood legend. The background sound is mainly made up of a howling wind noise, which helps heighten the creepiness, but then during the second half director Elia Kazan inserts music, which becomes a distraction.
The ending leaves open a wide array of unanswered questions along with a lot of murky character motivations that makes the whole thing seem pointless and ill-conceived. The only interesting element to get out of it is seeing Woods and Railsback in their respective film debuts. Railsback is especially good in a part he seems born to play and one he honed to even greater success years later in The Stunt Man.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: February 2, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes
Director: Elia Kazan
Studio: United Artists
Available: Amazon Instant Video