Saturday 26 November 2011

Movie Review: An Officer And A Gentleman (1982)

A grand romance emerging from the hardship of military training and equally testing blue collar surroundings, An Officer And A Gentleman confirmed Richard Gere as a sensational heartthrob, and catapulted Debra Winger to stardom. Taylor Hackford directs a romantic drama rich with sub-texts related to personal ambition, military discipline, and the convolutions of relationships.

Zack Mayo (Gere), long neglected by his father (Robert Loggia), enlists in the Navy's Aviator Officer School in the Pugent Sound area of Washington State. The other candidates include Sid Worley (David Keith), Casey Seeger (Lisa Eilbacher) and Emiliano Della Serra (Tony Plana), and they are all soon battling through the hardship of the 13 week training program, guided by fierce drill sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.).

Mayo and Worley are class leaders and become friends. They meet two local girls who work at a nearby paper factory: Paula (Debra Winger) starts a friendship with Mayo that slowly but surely deepens into a relationship. Worley and Lynette (Lisa Blount) start with the sex and then explore the benefits of a friendship.

As the training progresses, Foley has to knock the traces of self-centred arrogance out of Mayo to turn him into an effective leader; Paula starts to wonder if she has invested too much into a man who will likely never see her again once he graduates; and Lynette ponders a plan to make sure that Worley does not leave her. Mayo uncovers some shaky foundations to Worley's determination to succeed, and these character flaws threaten the graduation prospects of both men. With the training coming to an end, Mayo, Worley, Paula and Lynette have to make the difficult choices that will determine their destinies.

It is rare for a romance to appeal equally to both sexes, but An Officer And A Gentleman successfully pushes all the right buttons for men and women. The glamour of overcoming the rigorous training regime and becoming a navy aviator resonates strongly with the male psyche. The local girl falling in love and being swept off her feet - literally, in this case - by the handsome prince (or officer in uniform, as the case may be) underpins every girl's childhood fantasy.

The script by Douglas Day Stewart weaves a simple modern day tale around the quest for man to become a warrior, and the quest for woman to secure a warrior for herself, and adds in a clever layer of demonstrated failure: anything that can go wrong does go wrong, and suddenly, in the relationship between Worley and Lynette. Not all men will become leaders, and not all women will succeed in finding a knight in shining armour.

Director Taylor Hackford, entering a peak personal era of delivering complex romances that would include Against All Odds, White Nights, and Everybody's All American, teases out five excellent performances out of his cast. Gere's Mayo displays a surprisingly respectful steely resolve to succeed, pushing aside his more rebellious nature to obey, for the most part, the punishing instructions of Foley. Winger plays the deceptively doe-eyed Paula with a tender spunkiness, her glamour downgraded to suit the local poor girl from a blue-collar family. Gere and Winger immediately find sizzling chemistry, culminating in a sex scene that has retained its crackling heat over the decades.

In support, Louis Gossett, Jr. won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his Gunnery Sergeant Foley, a role that would become indelibly associated with the actor. Mercilessly spitting nails and an endless stream of insults and profanities, Gossett brings a disciplined but manic intensity to the role of transforming wannabe fighter pilots into navy officers.

David Keith and Lisa Blount play a substantial role in the success of An Officer And A Gentleman, in secondary roles that refreshingly undergo their own compelling transformations. Keith's Worley is much less certain than Mayo about why he wants to be an officer, but it takes him a tragically long time to realize this. When he finally comes to terms with his life's decisions, he is in the clutches of unforeseen trouble. Blount, in the best role of her career, is haunting as she gradually reveals Lynette as the most dangerous obstacle facing the trainees: beneath the fun and frolicking, Lynette has a deadly serious and selfish objective.

With Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes belting out the spine-tingling Up Where We Belong as the romance between Mayo and Paula climaxes unforgettably on the factory floor in the final scene, An Officer And A Gentleman secures its place among Hollywood's greatest love stories.

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