A powerful metaphor of the national shame that was America’s orgy of destruction in Vietnam, Brian De Palma’s film deals directly with the harrowing rape and murder of a Vietnamese woman by four GIs.
Journalist Daniel Lang’s account of the actual 1966 atrocity first appeared in 1969 as a New Yorker article and was later reprinted in book form.
Screen newcomer Thuy Thu Le is the Vietnamese woman kidnapped by a reconnaissance patrol as what the deranged sergeant (Sean Penn) calls ‘a little portable R&R to break up the boredom, keep up morale.’ When the men are through using her sexually, they stab and shoot her to death, over the futile objections of the lone holdout, a ‘cherry’ private played by Michael J. Fox.
Casting Fox was a brilliant coup on De Palma’s part, since he brings with him an image of all-American boyishness and eager-beaver conservatism. Fox’s beautifully acted cowardly passivity in the face of the unthinkable challenges and implicates the viewer to examine his own conscience on the subject of Vietnam.
Wolf Kroeger’s production design turns the Thailand locations into a convincing evocation of Vietnam’s Central Highlands in 1966.