One of the biggest hits of 1982 and a cultural event back in the day, I remember seeing AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN in a packed theatre.
A traditional story wrapped in 80's profanity and frank sexuality, it's loaded with great performances.
Richard Gere, hot off of "American Gigolo" the previous year is Zach Mayo, a lost young man looking for some direction when he joins the Naval academy.
Director Taylor Hackford (Ray, Against All Odds) sets the story up perfectly, opening the film with a powerful prologue introducing us to a younger Zach (Gere brood-alike Tommy Peterson) and his drunken, promiscuous father Byron (Robert Loggia of "Big" and "Scarface"). We see the two over a twenty year span and they're a disaster. This is not the kind of movie where Dad's going to show up at the end for a hug & redemption.
Gere enlists under one of film's all time classic drill Sargents, Emil Foley, in an Oscar Winning role for Louis Gossett Jr.
Foley is a brutal verbal and physical abuser and his toe-to-to battles with Zach are legendary.
"I don't see any horns on your head boy" and "In every class, there's always one joker who thinks that he's smarter than me. In this class, that happens to be you. Isn't it, Mayonnaise?" are just a couple of his one-liners.
I'd pay to see a verbal cage match between Gossett's Foley, R. Lee Ermey's Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket" and Warren Oates' Sgt Hulka in "Stripes".
Mayo bonds with fellow recruit Sid Whorley (David Keith in his best performance) and the two of them team up with local factory workers Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynette (Lisa Blount).
Debra Winger was one of my faves back in the day. Between this role and her performance as Sissy in "Urban Cowboy" in the early 80's she was the go to for kick ass 80's women.
Winger and Gere generate powerful sparks on screen in a relationship that's tortured by Mayo's lack of any role model for a real relationship in his life. Movie audiences were different in the early eighties. While the film's profanity wouldn't shock audiences today, its sex scenes and nudity would. We were a lot less puritanical back in the day I guess.
Gere and WInger apparently didn't get along at all while filming, but Gere admitted years later that he was unprepared for how great an actress Winger was and that he was worried she was stealing every scene from him. She received a Best Actress nomination for the film.
There are not a lot of happy characters in the film, with everyone trying to climb their way out of their current lives. Keith's Sid is especially trapped and tragic.
By the time the final scene rolls in and "Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes fires up over the credits, at least two people have found redemption. Gere admitted that he hated the last scene, but said recently that watching it now, he can see that it was the perfect ending and it gives him chills. Gossett challenged audiences to decide who is rescuing who during that final stroll in the factory.
Audiences loved it, driving over $125 million at the box office in 1982 dollars. Only a little film called "ET", "Rocky III" and "On Golden Pond" beat it in ticket sales that year.
Winger is still the perfect small town factory girl nearly 40 years later, she's excellent.
OFFICER gets a B+.