Prior to Top Gun with Tom Cruise and long before The Guardian with Ashton Kutcher, An Officer and a Gentleman was the film about a hot-headed hotshot military trainee headed for glory or self-destruction.
Starring a youthful Richard Gere (Chicago), An Officer and a Gentleman follows the journey of Zack Mayo, a young man looking to find his place in the world, and to prove he can defy his chaotic, depraved upbringing. His avenue of choice is to become a navy jet pilo…, which means he must first survive officer training under hard-as-nails Gunnery Sergeant Foley (Lou Gosset Jr., Diggstown). Between the tough training and weekend romps with girlfriend Paula (Debra Winger, Shadowlands), a local townie hoping to marry a pilot-to-be and escape her dead-end life, Mayo has a hard time holding on to his selfish, loner persona, and he fights the battle on internal and external levels throughout the film. It takes him a long time to realize he can change, open up to others and actually succeed. It’s a no man is an island story, and while you’re probably familiar with aspects of it from the likes of The Guardian, this film tells it in a more realistic and thus more satisfying way.
It’s definitely the realism that caught my attention. Everything about the film, from the overall story to the characters and their interactions, just plain feels real. It has the crude, rough edges so often missing in most Hollywood films, and as plenty of the cast and crew say in the bonus materials, a studio wouldn’t make this movie today. That’s a shame.
Of course, it helps to have strong performances. Gosset Jr. won an Oscar for his impressive showing here, and while he rose above the rest of the cast, they certainly hold their own. I haven’t seen every Gere film, but this is the best I’ve seen him. He exudes bravado and desperation to varying extents throughout, taking an interesting character on a believable ride. His love interest, Winger, is also a joy to watch, particularly since we’ve seen roles like hers phoned in many times in recent movie history. Not this time – Winger introduces a level of emotional complexity difficult to resist.
The final aspect I’d like to address is the film’s storybook ending. If you want to avoid a spoiler, skip down to the video portion of this review now. Even if you’ve never watched the whole movie, chances are you’ve seen a clip of Gere in full dress uniform striding confidently into the factory where Winger’s character works, sweeping her off her feet to the cheers of her fellow female workers and carrying her out in his arms. In contrast to the realism at work up to that point in the film, this scene can seem like a cop-out, giving in to the Hollywood cliché. It may throw you off the picture altogether – hey, even the director didn’t personally like it – but I’m betting most viewers don’t mind the ending. I certainly didn’t. In fact, I think it’s one of the best movie endings I’ve seen, and while it may seem to contradict the film’s “gritty” realism, I think it actually fits rather well – because storybook endings can happen in real life. And who’s to say their relationship won’t fall apart a week or month or year down the road? The ending just capture one exceedingly happy moment in two people’s lives.
So An Officer and a Gentleman is a refreshingly real take on a story we’ve grown to know well. How’s the DVD?
An Officer and a Gentleman – Special Collector’s Edition is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen format. It looks good for its age. There are no film artifacts – nice job on the restoration, Paramount – and consistent, unavoidable film grain is the only issue. Also, as with many films from the mid-80s, colours here are on the pale side. The DVD transfer itself appears to be near-flawless, with no noticeable issues.
Menus are animated and scored.
The main audio presentation is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, of course based on the film’s original mono track. As such, the overall sound is a bit insubstantial, but dialogue is always clear and the music – including the number-one hit song, Up Where We Belong – sounds ok, too. Don’t look for much action on your surrounds or the LFE channel, though.
English audio is also offered in mono 2.0, as is French. Subtitles are available in English only.
An Officer and a Gentleman – Special Collector’s Edition is a decent example of a single-disc special edition, with some interesting bonus material. Here’s what we get:
- Audio commentary: by director Taylor Hackford (Ray), who does a nice job maintaining viewer interest throughout. He seems honest about many aspects of the film, good or bad, including the famous ending.
- An Officer and a Gentleman: 25 Years Later: 28 minutes long, this piece features most of the key cast and crew sharing memories about the film. Definitely worth watching.
- Return to Port Townsend: Here Gosset Jr. takes us on a tour of the town where the film was shot 25 years ago. Some townspeople come out to greet him, and he walks around pointing out locations of key scenes. Interesting to some, but at 12 minutes it verges on boring.
- True Stories of Military Romance: a short documentary about real military couples and the difficult time military wives have with the prolonged, worrisome absences of their husbands. Not so much about the romance, though.
- The Music of An Officer and a Gentleman: making the smash hit Up Where We Belong, and Jack Nitzsche’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) score. Nine minutes worth watching.
- Gere and Gossett: Hand-to-Hand Combat: I was excited to see this on the list of special features, but was disappointed when I finally watched it. It runs just three minutes, and offers little about the making of the actual fight scene. Instead, the two stars discuss their karate training and offer a lot of mutual praise.
- Photo Gallery: your usual stuff.
An Officer and a Gentleman stands the test of time, and this special collector’s edition release is a solid effort. Recommended.
Special Features List
- Commentary by: Director Taylor Hackford
- An Officer and a Gentleman: 25 Years Later
- Return to Port Townsend
- True Stories of Military Romance
- The Music of An Officer and a Gentleman
- Gere and Gossett: Hand-to-Hand Combat
- Photo gallery