An Officer and a Gentleman
1982
Dreams of being a Navy pilot prompt Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) to enroll in officer training school, where he runs afoul of a drill instructor (Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr.) who senses the cadet's loner instinct and aims to school him on the importance of teamwork -- or break him in the process. In the meantime, Mayo romances a working girl (Debra Winger), ignoring warnings to steer clear of the local lasses out to bag hotshot Navy flyboys.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Hailed for looking as honestly at love under these circumstances as it could and still have the mandatory happy ending, this film is granted greatness by its two lead characters, who refuse to sink to the levels that everyone expects of them. The film takes a long survey of their complexes of pride and need, and winds up showing the best and worst that love can do to human beings, no small achievement. The military training subplot is also remarkable, hitting the expected notes with such commitment and passion that we overcome any quibbles about the unlikeliness of it all.

Lou Gossett deserved his Oscar for the drill sergeant, playing not the recruit-obliterating machine later embodied by R. Lee Ermey but a gentler, wiser man who knows that not applying pressure at the right moment can have an even bigger influence on his trainee. He senses from his first meeting with Richard Gere that the young man will be worthy of special attention, and his decision to behave as Gere's literal and figurative punching bag to allow the young man to put his past behind him is a gift that I found moving. There's feeling and subtext in all of the relationships in the film, but none more so than the sargeant and the officer candidate.

The film has minor weaknesses, including a final scene that gets carried away with itself and a failure to overcome the nagging sense that these characters experience far more personal growth than thirteen brisk weeks would allow, but those faults pale in consideration of how much the film gets exactly right about its characters and the reasons why we consent and refuse to be used by other people. It's a film blessed with considerable insight into human nature, and a new personal favorite of mine.

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