Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 13, 2007)
Back when An Officer and a Gentleman premiered in 1982, Richard Gere remained a largely unknown commodity as an actor. His most prominent prior role came in 1980ís American Gigolo. The movie generated a lot of press - much of which occurred because then-regarded-as-sexy John Travolta had backed out of it - but didnít do too much business.
Officer made Gere a certified star, and at that time, we knew little else about him. Before Cindy, before the Dalai Lama, before the gerbil - we just saw a handsome and decently talented young actor and that was that.
Gere wasnít the only one to benefit from the success of Officer. Debra Winger emerged from virtually nowhere to become a leading actress. Her biggest role prior to Officer came in 1980ís Urban Cowboy, a picture that starred - holy Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon! - John Travolta. In fact, I believe Travolta ditched Gigolo so he could appear in Cowboy.
Actually, Officer remains Wingerís biggest success unless you count the voice work she did for ET the Extraterrestrial. There seems to be something of an Officer curse because all of its actors experienced hard times in the ensuing years. Until 2002ís Chicago, Gere didnít make another successful film that didnít star Julia Roberts, and after 1983ís Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment, Winger hasnít made a hit movie period.
Louis Gossett Jr. took home an Academy Award for his role as tough Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. For this his reward was a lifetime of Iron Eagle movies. David Keith has made a series of mostly forgettable and little-known films, though at least he grabbed a decent role in modest hit U-571. Even the bit actors in Officer were doomed. David Caruso appeared in the picture, and he went on to become a TV star on NYPD Blue. However, once he left that show to return to movies, he vanished into thin air until he came back to the small screen.
Director Taylor Hackford enjoyed more success after Officer, though it remains probably the biggest hit on his rťsumť. Other films like The Devilís Advocate and Against All Odds at least managed to stir up some business and attention, unlike the clunkers that make up most of the actorsí credits. However, Hackford did well with his last movie, 2004ís Ray
In any case, they all managed one fairly shining moment in 1982 with Officer. The film relates the tale of Zack Mayo (Gere), an officer candidate in the Navy who wants to fly jets. Heís the son of a Navy lifer who didnít exactly do the best job raising the boy; Zack spent a lot of time around Filipino whorehouses and became quite jaded from what he saw.
As such, Mayo enters Officer Candidate School (OCS) with a pretty cynical and self-centered outlook on life. Essentially, the movie watches him as he grows from hardened jerk to semi-open and warm person and inevitably learns to work with and value the company of others. This occurs through the relationships he builds on base - mainly with fellow candidate Sid (Keith) and hard-ass drill instructor Foley (Gossett) - plus the romance he develops with townie Paula (Winger).
To say that Officer is anything other than predictable and occasionally sickly-sweet would be a lie. However, it does work fairly effectively. Officer manages to be one of those rare films that deftly treads the line between guy movie and ďchick flickĒ. The military setting and training camp ordeals make it compelling and manly enough for men, while the romantic aspect and the eye-candy that was Gere offer material of interest for women.
Director Taylor Hackford balances the two sides pretty well. Ultimately, the romantic portions dominate the movie, but I may feel that way just because I didnít like them as much; hey, Iím a guy, and the mushy stuff bored me. Nonetheless, the story flips cleanly between the lovey-dovey and the competitive, and I thought the mix worked nicely.
As a whole, the film is well acted. Gere always has played self-contained, closed-off characters nicely - Pretty Womanís Edward Lewis is just a nicer riff on Mayo, really - and he also can accurately transmit the personís growth; Zackís changes never felt forced or artificial. I donít know if Gossett deserved an Oscar for his role as Foley, but he definitely was effective in the part. He makes the instructor a force with which to be reckoned, but we also can see the human side in him as appropriate.
Some of An Officer and a Gentleman hasnít aged well, especially the cheesy score that echoes hit song ďUp Where We BelongĒ. However, it still makes for a fairly involving and entertaining film. At the very least itís a good ďdate nightĒ compromise.