Although Memorial Day is now past, it is important to recognize the sacrifices our military personnel make on days other than holidays. Commemorating Memorial or Decoration Day, this column reviewed “Courage Under Fire” yesterday. Sometimes public awareness of the military diminishes during peacetime. In “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which came out in 1982, filmmakers sought to document the sacrifices that young men and women make even relatively peaceful times.
In “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Richard Gere plays Zachary “Zack” Mayo, the son of dysfunctional military parents who determines flight school to be his best path forward. On both professional and personal levels, he is poorly equipped for this tough environment. A stubborn troublemaker, Zack finds himself at odds with the exacting drill instructor, Foley (played by Louis Gossett Jr.). At the school, Zack makes some friends, including Sid (played by David Keith). The social environment of flight school is just as tricky as the curriculum as local working class women are conditioned to seek military pilot husbands. One night, Zack meets a local girl, Paula (played by Debra Winger), and Sid meets Lynette (played by Lisa Blount). Managing their relationships with Paula and Lynette prove to be just as challenging as the rigors of flight school.
“An Officer and a Gentleman” has a superb cast. Richard Gere is excellent in the lead role. Both stubborn and smart, he is determined to stay the course, no matter how hard Foley pushes him. Through his relationship with a female trainee, he learns how to set aside personal accomplishments for the good of the team. Debra Winger is equally strong as Paula. Her performance earned an Academy Award nomination. Louis Gossett Jr. won an Oscar for his command of Foley’s character.
The screenplay of the film is impressive. In addition to their personal travails, the audience gets a glimpse of the obstacles that Zack and the other students must endure.
With its examination of the demanding training required of military pilots, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is a worthwhile study.