An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: August 13th, 1982 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Taylor Hackford Actors: Richard Gere, Debra Winger, David Keith, Robert Loggia, Lisa Eilbacher, Louis Gossett Jr., Lisa Blount, Tony Plana, David Caruso, Harold Sylvester




n Seattle, Washington, Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) reminisces about his childhood, at a point when his father, Rear Admiral Byron (Robert Loggia), picked him up in the Philippine Islands shortly after his mother committed suicide. He was young and hateful, blaming his absentee father for his inability to fit in and to have a normal life, as well as for the death of his mother. Though the years have passed, and he’s now an adult, Zack still hangs out with his father, who hasn’t changed his ways of late-night booze-binging and whoring. On this particular morning, Byron awakes in a stupor, brushing aside two women in his bed, making his way to the toilet to vomit, before Zack informs him that he’s joined the Navy.

It’ll take six years of his life, but Zack is determined to become an officer. At the Port Rainier U.S. Naval Air Station, he meets his first major obstacle: Drill Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr. in an award-winning turn), intent on unearthing every weakness of his new recruits, his denigrating shouting and order-barking sure to fuel nightmares. “You slimy worms!”

Thirteen weeks of basic training – punctuated by incessant demands for punitive push-ups – are just the beginning. And these opening sequences serve to demonstrate the grueling nature of military conduct, detailing a significant number of routines, schooling, drills, and procedures. It’s not dull, but some of it is comprehensive to an unnecessary degree. After 30 minutes, another hurdle presents itself – and it’s the primary one for this movie. Paper mill workers Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) and Lynette Pomeroy (Lisa Blount) attend a dance, working their way into the arms of Zack and his fellow officer candidate Sid Worley (David Keith), respectively. They’re just two of many women who frequent the base, rumored to be looking for husbands (and possibly willing to trap men with a pregnancy to force a union) or, at the very least, a good time.

From here, the picture makes opportunities to exhibit the downtime (weekend liberty) between physical and technical instruction and military conventions in favor of romantic encounters. Of course, Zack has a lot of learning to do in the realm of courting: he’s downright disagreeable and rude at times, reluctant to open up to Paula and insistent on keeping her at a distance. Any sort of commitment or deeper relationship seems impossible; they’re not interested in the same things. “I dare you not to fall in love with me.”

Nevertheless, they continue to see each other, knowing that there’s a time limit for their trysts, especially since Zack’s further training will take him back and forth across the country. He remains disconnected and dispassionate, focused on graduating and having a Navy career, while Paula finds herself too emotionally invested, distraught at the idea of that connection slipping away. Winger clearly has the harder role and she’s very convincing; in contrast, Gere has a difficult time conveying believable sentiments, even when he’s supposed to be angry, which should be the easiest.

Still, the story is engaging, chronicling the efforts of two disparate people as they struggle not to end up like their parents; as they weigh responsibility versus total freedom; and as they examine the value of respect, leadership, and the occasional act of defiance. Supplementing this is Worley’s tale, representing the other end of the spectrum; his romantic entanglement shows the genders reversed, and the ways in which anyone can be the victim of manipulation. Disappointingly, Zack’s trial culminates in a physical contest, suggesting that violence is the only solution to pent-up mental turmoil (perhaps in line with the hard-edged nature of this mature drama). However, the conclusion – as predictable as it may be – is quite winning and heartfelt, embracing the fairy-tale aura audiences will surely want.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10