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Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) is a loner from a broken home, a Navy brat who one day decides to join up. He wants to be a fighter pilot, but first he must get through 13 weeks of gruelling basic training at the Officer Candidate School. Recognizing Mayo’s selfish lone wolf instincts, hard-nosed drill instructor Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) sets out to teach him the importance of discipline and teamwork—or break him in the process. Meanwhile Zack and his buddy Sid Worley (David Keith) must also survive the local girls (Debra Winger and Lisa Blount), who are notorious for doing anything to bag Navy flyer husbands.

With its famously saccharine ending, scored to the tune Up Where We Belong, it’s easy to forget that beyond the airbrushed sentimentality and those prissy white uniforms, An Officer and a Gentleman is a tough-centred character piece. Gere’s Mayo begins as a blank. He is a man who has never felt love or friendship and refuses to let anyone in—including the viewer. Gere’s hard veneer, a hindrance in some roles, works to his advantage here. When it finally cracks the moment is all the more effective.

Hackford’s audio commentary is a breathless stream of information, brimming with anecdotes from the set—including his instructions to Gossett to act aloof and unpleasant before shooting began, so the "new recruits" would be genuinely nervous around him during their first on screen encounter. Last seen directing Russell Crowe in Proof of Life, Hackford is a Hollywood veteran and has much to say on not only the shooting of the movie, but the movie business itself. The director frequently turns history teacher, placing the production firmly in its 1982 context, a time when studio big guns like Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Barry Diller were still young men remoulding Paramount Pictures in their image.

Almost 20 years on, An Officer and a Gentleman stands up well. A sharp script, by former Navy officer Douglas Day Stewart, is matched by thoughtful direction. Hackford is an old school director, committed to portraying characters through their actions, and he draws fine performances from his entire cast. Even the bit parts, no more than names in the original screenplay, brim with rich detail. The real treat though is Gossett as Foley, the screaming drill instructor whose verbal and physical abuse provides Mayo with the tough-love father figure he so desperately needs. For that, Oscar-winning performance alone An Officer and a Gentleman is well worth revisiting.
Stuart Whitmore

Publication Date: September 6, 2001

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CAST: Richard Gere, Debra Winger, David Keith, Lisa Blount, Louis Gossett, Jr., Robert Loggia
DIRECTOR: Taylor Hackford
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: June 8, 2001

Widescreen feature presentation; Theatrical trailer; Audio commentary (by the director); Languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish; Subtitles: English, Croatian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish

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