[Film Review] An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

An Officer and a Gentleman poster

Title: An Officer and a Gentleman
Year: 1982
Country: USA
Language: English, Filipino
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writer: Douglas Day Stewart
Music: Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography: Donald E. Thorin
Richard Gere
Debra Winger
Louis Gossett Jr.
David Keith
Lisa Blount
Lisa Eilbacher
Robert Loggia
Tony Plana
Harold Sylvester
David Caruso
Tommy Petersen
Grace Zabriskie
Victor French
Rating: 6.4/10

The movie was a box office sensation in 1982 (a domestic grossing around $129 million against its $6 million budget) and catapults Richard Gere and Debra Winger onto leading material phenoms among their peers, and won Louis Gossett Jr. an Oscar for portraying the rigorous drill sergeant Foley.

Directed by Taylor Hackford (Mr. Helen Mirren if it rings a bell to those unfamiliar with his works), it is only his second feature film, about a young man Zack (Gere), decides to join the US Navy to fly jets, so he must survive the 13-week training at Aviation Officer Candidate School with his fellow candidates, under the harsh supervision of Foley. Meantime he engages in a romantic relationship with a local girl Paula (Winger) in spite of the warnings that some girls are determined with their own agenda, they will do everything to trick a promising future aviator into marriage, is Paula one of them?

Confining the story within these 13 weeks, the film makes sure that we have no chance glimpsing some expensive action set pieces of naval aviation like in Tony Scott’s TOP GUN (1986), contentedly, it buoys up the narrative with a feel-good camaraderie bonding during the training program among the cadets, Zack befriends with Sid Worley (Keith), a patriotic young man from a good family, who enrolls to assume the lofty vocation of his late brother (a navy officer died in the Vietnam war). To ensure its political correctness, apart from a black trainer, the assembly includes a black family guy Perryman (Sylvester), a homunculus Latino Della Serra (Plana), even a female candidate Casey Seeger (Eilbacher), the only missing addition is an Asian.

Dazzled by its faithful imitation of the training process, including a novel Dilbert Dunker sequence which disqualifies a very young David Caruso, nevertheless, audience will find out that the centre piece in the school resides within the dynamic relation between a self-assertive Zack and the despotic Foley, Louis Gossett Jr. enforces a bombastic gambit to the utter perfection during his first scenes, and establishes his prestige in spectators both in and off screen. The character Foley precedes a more sadistic variation, R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Harman in Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET (1987), and Mr. Ermey is in fact the acting coach for Mr. Gossett here; also it is an archetype of the love-and-hate mentor type, which has been portrayed with much more ambiguity and menace in another Oscar-winning performance, J.K. Simmons in Damien Chazelle’s WHIPLASH (2014).

On the romantic side, there are very erotic sex scenes between Zack and Paula, explicit and intimate, both Gere and Winger are no holds barred in their onscreen commitment, especially Winger, “How can you resist? I’m like candy!”, gives a sensual, sympathetic and more organic performance in this borderline leading role (which earns her first Oscar nomination). Gere is smoking hot whether he is disrobed or suited with navy uniform, and a brief flashback of the past before the opening credits may suggest Zack’s disturbed inner state, but as the story unwinds, he turns out quite well, an Alpha male imparted with street smart, only a bit little withheld, and don’t make promises easily.

But, tragedy lurks not far away, if Paula bespeaks a kindhearted girl who dares to love somebody unconditionally, the flip side is Sid’s squeeze Lynette (Blount), who indirectly triggers a very unsound twist of melodrama only to drive Zack become more cynical and in turn, leave its patronizing ending more uplifting when its Oscar-winning theme song UP WHERE WE BELONG swells as if Paula were the damsel in distress whose drab life could only be rescued by a handsome navy officer, that’s the biggest mistake of this otherwise agreeable picture, Paula is a wholesome package (although the moment when she reveals the identity of her biological father, it is a rather cunning move to manipulate sense of guilty to advantage), it is Zack who is in the receiving end of a helping hand.

An Officer and a Gentleman 1982


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