Paramount // 1982 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 1st, 2007
It will lift you up where you belong.
Two decades before being nominated Best Director for Ray, his biopic about music legend Ray Charles, Taylor Hackford made a trio of movies whose success propelled and was propelled by the success of the music produced for their soundtracks. An Officer and a Gentlemen, Against All Odds, and White Nights each delivered number one radio singles in "Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins, and "Say You, Say Me" by Lionel Richie. I can't say I like any of these tunes, but there's no denying that Hackford found a career sweet spot in the early 1980s by repeatedly tapping into America's love of schmaltzy love songs, making both movie and music executives loads of cash in the process.
An Officer and a Gentleman is the best of the previously mentioned movies, though its '80s pop soundtrack ensures it will always be remembered as a product of its time. It takes its second bow on DVD in this Special Collector's Edition release, which packs the film and as many supplements as possible on one dual-layered disc.
After the tragic death of his mother, young Zack Mayo is shipped off to the Philippines to live with his father (Robert Loggia, Prizzi's Honor), a boozing, whoring, career enlisted man in the U.S. Navy. Harboring dreams of being a naval aviator, the adult Zack (Richard Gere, Chicago) enlists in Officer Candidate School despite the objections of his old man, who doesn't believe his son is cut out to be an officer and a gentleman. Mayo's hard-assed drilled instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr., Enemy Mine) considers "Mayo-nnaise" a smart and resilient recruit who lacks the moral fortitude and selflessness to be a naval officer. He wants the kid's D.O.A. -- drop on request -- from the program, and presses him to the breaking point in order to get it.
Meanwhile, Zack and his buddy Sid Worley (David Keith, Firestarter) become romantically entangled with Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment) and Lynette Pomeroy (Lisa Blount, Prince of Darkness), two girls who work at a paper manufacturing plant. The local girls, it seems, have a reputation for trying to ensnare Officer Candidates by any means necessary in order to escape their dead-end working class lives. Is Paula's love for Zack the real deal? If so, can Zack overcome his troubled childhood and grab hold of an opportunity for real love?
An Officer and a Gentleman's opening and closing scenes exemplify the unevenness of the picture as a whole. The movie kicks off with a taut sequence that cross-cuts between Mayo's announcement to his debauched father that he intends to become a Navy officer, and scenes of the adolescent Zack arriving in the Philippines after his mother's death and having to make his way in the world under the tutelage of a father ill-equipped to raise him. The sequence is lean, mostly understated and realistic, narratively expressive, and beautifully shot and edited. By contrast, the movie's famous finale has little to do with realism or economy of storytelling. It's pure cliché. The rest of the film mirrors one or the other of these extremes. The entire picture feels like a wrestling match between stark realism and romance novel hooey.
Most likely, fault lies with screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart (The Blue Lagoon). If the old writer's axiom is that you write what you know, Stewart followed the advice in half of his screenplay, but chucked it out the window in favor of Hollywood hokum in the other half. Because Stewart was a naval officer, Mayo's training is loaded with keenly observed details and a simple, unpretentious realism. But the girls' stories are pure fabrication; many of the details and some of the dialogue feel and sound patently false. Stewart's work is rigidly symmetrical, which is a strength in some areas and a terrible weakness in others. For instance, Mayo's ability to find meaningful romance with Paula by film's end is a direct result of Gunnery Sergeant Foley's having knocked the cocky loner chip off of his shoulder during 13 weeks of grueling training. Rather than comment on or highlight this connection between the movie's two narrative threads, Stewart's screenplay merely hangs it out there for the viewer to recognize, and is the better for its subtlety. On the other hand, Paula's working girl story is delivered with all the subtlety of a bag of hammers. When you get right down to it, we only come to know Paula to the extent that she is set in relief against Zack, the low reputation of the local girls, and the romance between Sid and Lynette. As an actual character, she's woefully under-developed.
These screenplay problems have a direct effect on the actor's performances. Gere, Gossett, and Keith are stellar in the navy training portions of the picture. Supporting performances by David Caruso (CSI: Miami), Harold Sylvester (Vision Quest), and Lisa Eilbacher (Beverly Hill's Cop) are all rock-solid even if each of their characters is only a foil for Zack. Winger and Blount are mostly excellent, but are occasionally wrong-footed by Stewart's sometimes rickety, overwritten dialogue in the romance storyline. In revisiting An Officer and a Gentleman, what most surprised me about its performances, though, was how good Gere is. He never struggles with the weaker elements of Stewart's writing, and Winger is strongest when she's sharing the screen with him. Gossett won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic performance in the flick (he deserved the statue, despite Iron Eagle-ing his career into oblivion in the years that followed), but Gere's excellent performance is the glue that holds the entire movie together.
I haven't seen the original An Officer and a Gentleman DVD, but I'm guessing the attractive transfer on this Special Collector's Edition is brand new. It appears restored as there's not a nick, fleck, or scratch in sight. Grain is consistent with film stocks of the early '80s (heavier than modern stocks), but not at all distracting. Some subtle haloing is the only digital flaw.
The default audio setting is a thin Dolby Digital 5.1 track matrixed from the movie's original mono soundtrack, which is also available in a two-channel mix. Both tracks offer fine, clean audio, free of annoyances.
Among the disc's supplements is a feature-length audio commentary by Hackford. I'm assuming it's the same track offered on the earlier DVD. Hackford is casual, engaging, and refreshingly forthright. He makes no bones about not liking the film's iconic final scene (only the female extras' strong emotional reaction to Gere literally sweeping Winger off of her feet convinced him to leave it in the final cut).
This Special Collector's Edition also includes five featurettes. A retrospective documentary called An Officer and a Gentleman: 25 Years Later is the longest of the bunch at 28 minutes. Hackford, Gere, Gossett, Keith, and other members of the cast and crew offer memories of the film. Debra Winger is noticeably absent. Return to Port Townsend is a 12-minute piece in which Louis Gossett Jr. gives us a modern-day tour of the Port Townsend sites used as locations in the film. Not much has changed in the past quarter century. True Stories of Military Romance is an odd piece that kicks off with Douglas Day Stewart reminiscing about his days as an Officer Candidate, then segues into the stories of Ensign Glenn Greenleaf and his wife Wendy, and Sarah Smiley, the daughter of a career navy man and wife of naval aviator Dustin Smiley. The featurette is less about military romance than the strain of separation in military marriages. The Music of An Officer and a Gentleman is a nine-minute look at Jack Nitzsche's score, and the making of the soft rock hit "Up Where We Belong." Finally, there's a three-minute featurette called Gere and Gossett: Hand-to-Hand Combat that is ostensibly about their karate smackdown scene, but is really an opportunity for the two actors to sing each other's praises.
In addition to the commentary and featurettes, there's a photo gallery with a whopping 83 production stills. I'm not a huge fan of DVD galleries, but this is a good one.
An Officer and a Gentleman is an odd piece of moviemaking -- half New Hollywood grit, half old school hokum. If not for Taylor Hackford's always competent and occasionally brilliant direction, as well as a stand-out performances by Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr., the picture might have been a disaster. Instead, it's an entertaining piece of melodrama.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director Taylor Hackford
* An Officer and Gentleman: 25 Years Later Featurette
* Return to Port Townsend Featurette
* True Stories of Military Romance Featurette
* The Music of An Officer and a Gentleman Featurette
* Gere and Gossett: Hand-to-Hand Combat Featurette
* Photo Gallery