The number of films made by Americans on the Vietnam War since 1964 is impressive. Renowned for his technical virtuosity, Brian De Palma tried his hand at exercise in 1989. With Outrages, he gave us his vision of the conflict, as did other great filmmakers before, such as Michael Cimino (Voyage au end of hell, 1978), Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, 1979), Oliver Stone (Platoon, 1986) and Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, 1987) to name but the most famous. Each of these very different films has its own specificity and personality. But Outrages is a unique work, unlike any other.
“This is not another film about Vietnam. I would never have done it if it did not bring something new “, moreover confessed the director to the daily France-Soir, in January 1990. He adds:” Vietnam is an always open wound of the American unconscious. A gaping wound that will never close. De Palma therefore chose an original angle to add to the structure. His approach to the subject is different. Outrages (which has just been released for the very first time on Blu-ray in an opulent box set, carefully edited by Wild Side) is a truly unique film in his career. For several reasons.
First of all, Outrages was inspired by an authentic news item, which was rather rare at the time. Indeed, only two films on Vietnam were taken from real events before him: Hamburger Hill (1987) by Briton John Irvin and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) by Barry Levinson (even if this comedy with Robin Williams was largely fictionalized). Enlisted as a volunteer at age 21 in the US Army, Oliver Stone drew on his memories as a young recruit to recount his traumatic experience in Vietnam in Platoon. But although partly autobiographical, his film was still a fiction.
De Palma, on the other hand, decided to stick as closely as possible to reality to give his drama an accent of truth, even though he changed the names of the characters in the news item on which it was based. Namely “the hill 192 incident” which refers to the kidnapping, gang rape and murder of a young Vietnamese peasant girl by a GI patrol during a reconnaissance mission in November 1966 in the province of Bình Định. The perpetrators of this heinous crime? Four American soldiers in their twenties. A fifth man in this unit, Sven Eriksson, helplessly witnessed the young girl’s martyrdom. Upon returning to base camp, officers advised him not to disclose the matter. But Eriksson takes the courageous decision to drag his “comrades” to court martial.
He recounted his ordeal to Daniel Lang, a journalist, who reported it first in a 1969 article in The New Yorker, and then, the same year, in a sober and documented book, Casualties of War. It was when he discovered this tragic episode in the press that De Palma thought of adapting it to the cinema. Indeed, the director escaped this war in the early 1960s when he was still a university student (“I got reformed because I have asthma”). And he tackled the Vietnamese question from his first films, Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), who revealed Robert De Niro. In 1970, a German director, Michael Verhoeven, recounted the atrocious news story experienced by Eriksson in O.K., a black and white war film. But De Palma will have to wait another twenty years before bringing it to the screen! This story never left him and obsessed him for years. However, his determination to set up this project will eventually pay off.