DIRECTED BY TAYLOR HACKFORD
STARRING: RICHARD GERE, DEBRA WINGER, LOUIS GOSSETT Jr., DAVID KEITH, LISA BLOUNT, LISA EILBACHER, TONY PLANA, HAROLD SYLVESTER, DAVID CARUSO and ROBERT LOGGIA
‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ is a badly-acted film that has an impressive premise otherwise. Think about it. It’s about a man who tries to hide his insecurity behind ambition that which in itself he’s not too sure of. A Will Hunting minus the genius ends up with the dead-faced Richard Gere (as Zack Mayo) who has nothing to show but the twinkle in his eye, part of his boyish charm. A fear of guilt and clarity against commitment, his tortuous army-camp experience (pilot training, in this case) finds a bright spot in the time he spends with Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger), a working class woman who plays the stereotypical anti-stereotype as far as quirks go. It’s a romance in intimacy, alongside which a friend and fellow peer in Sid Worley (David Keith) hits it off with Lynette, who’s Paula’s friend. Music speaks louder than love scenes as the two couples devour each other, the first confrontations of reality turning out unconvincing. It’s a hiccup and nothing more.
We’re tying two worlds together here – on the one hand, there’s the battle of life in a frontal metaphor – the training camp under the Devil (Louis Gossett Jr. as Sergeant Emil Foley). On the other, we recline into a sensual affair. Zack has had a bad past, changing hands from a gullible mother who died waiting for the man who’d never get back, to the Dad he’d never ever want to be. Paula’s mother has had a similar past as Zack’s, except she’s found solace in the paper mills and in a man who wouldn’t leave. The two of them find theirs in this similarity, in what I thought was the only genuinely romantic scene in the film which scores two-on-two in both conception and performance. They both evolve with each other, Zack particularly more so because she’s ice to his wounds. To Paula, on the other hand, he’s a sign of hope, of emotions the both of them would be much better without. The rest of the film (whose premise begins pretty much only after halftime) is about accomplishing fulfillment of this fantasy romance.
Zack distrusts Paula fearing emotional blackmail in the prospective future, something that the viewer knows she’s incapable of. Lynette is, though, but Sid resorts to trust her blindly in the course of things. A comedy of errors of right conviction against the wrong person in which, surely, only one could/would be made to work, at most. There’s no marks to guess which one that would be.
Taylor Hackford is incredible with his dramatic poise in scene setup, but he does a really bad job with a really bad bunch of actors. Richard Gere is larger-than-life. He looks convincing with shoulders squared and a puffed-up chest as he runs his hand through his mop of hair like a starlet on the rise. We wonder what he’s doing in an army camp. He’s flamboyant, he’s fit, but he’s incapable of getting across a single emotion. Nor does he try. Debra Winger is loveable as Paula, the wild-eyed, hoarse-voiced brunette who could light many a hall with her presence. She works the magic in a whirlwind of intimacy, but her bitterness in later parts is but a voiceover from a disconnected universe. Same as Lisa Blount as Lynette, a character of startling practicality who’s reduced to a bitch by a premise that’s hostile to anything real. The ‘Femme Fatale’ is insult to injury, as much as David Keith’s situational puppy-dog. The sequences are fairly sensitized, but the actors have none – which works only in the case of Sergeant Foley because that’s what he’s supposed to be. His borderline smiles and the post-rescue frenzy are saving graces to a shipwreck of performances where everyone’s decided to abandon ship.
I didn’t hate watching ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’. I was disappointed. This is supposed to be a stylized film that ends at an inimitable high in rainbow vividness. And yet the scenes lacked any sort of real impact – they served no purpose but to advance the plot, which in turn was all about its sequences in a cyclic sort of let-down. I shall remember this film forever as one that I wished to be excited about, both before and after, and as one that adamantly refused to give me the pleasure of having enjoyed it.