Movie Review: “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1981)



This is a GREAT growing-up movie, directed by Taylor Hackford (who recently made Ray) that young people (older teens/20s) will easily relate to.  It’s full of (real-life) drama and characters who remain in your mind after the film is over.  It was shot on-location in Washington state.       




You may know that Louis Gossett, Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Foley, the steel-tough drill instructor who serves as a father-figure to protagonist- young, undisciplined Zack Mayo (Richard Gere). 




Zack lost his mother before his teens, tragically.  He flew to the Phillipines to live with his sailor father Byron (Robert Loggia); he’s an alcoholic, womanizer, and disinterested parent.  But he’s all that Zac has…  


Byron: I’m out at sea three weeks out of every month, and when I’m back at port I don’t have time for this daddy stuff ’cause that’s not who I am.

Young Zack: That’s okay, sir.

Byron: Wait a second, kid, you don’t understand. I’m too old for this. I don’t care what the Navy says. This is no place to bring up a kid like I told you on the telephone. You’re better off at that state school back in Virginia. 

Warms the heart, doesn’t it?




Though discouraged by his not-so-dear dad, Zack decides to try out for the Navy’s officer school.  His secret dream has been to become a pilot.  At the school, on Port Rainier, Zack becomes part of a motley crue of recruits.  Foley will serve as “mom and dad for the next 13 weeks,” one recruit comments.  As well as leading his group in various exercises, Foley warns the men about the “Puget Debs”, the local single girls who take the ferry each weekend in hopes of landing themselves a pilot husband.  





Zack (nicknamed Mayonaisse) quickly distinguishes himself in various physical trials, but struggles with certain lecture classes.  He even makes friends, including Sid Worley (David Keith), a sweet/enthusiastic young man from an Oklahoma military family.  (Last season, you may’ve seen Keith on an ep of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.)       




I’ve never had a girl.


Zack meets Paula (Debra Winger), one of the local girls who works at a paper factory, at a dance.  Zack flatly states that he’s not looking for a relationship, just “some fun.”  Paula insists that she’s not a husband-hunter.  But over time, they grow closer and closer.  (The former loner even goes over to her house for Thanksgiving dinner!)       


Gere and Winger have GREAT chemistry!  They are comfortable getting physically close, discussing personal issues, but also laugh and joke around.  (But a producer felt she was not HOT enough for the part!)  Strong, positive emotions are new to Zack; he admits that Paula is his first girlfriend.  Paula, who is wise and hopeful, encourages him in his endeavors.       




Zack is pushed by the training, and by Paula’s need to get emotionally closer.  In the meantime, Sid struggles with his own insecurities and a relationship of his own.  


Several men drop out of the program, including a VERY young David Caruso.  (He has a couple of GREAT scenes!)  One weekend, Foley (nearly) pushes Zack to his breaking point.  But he won’t give up…     





Okay, so you may know the (fairy-tale-like) ending of the film!  Check out An Officer and a Gentleman– it has plenty of action and unexpected moments.  It’s not just a “chick-flick” as I read before.  (My mom, who got the DVD, really liked the story, too!)

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