Directed by Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate, Ray), An Officer and a Gentleman feels like the less cocky, less stylish and less macho elder brother of Tony Scott’s Top Gun. Just like the Tom Cruise hit, this film is also about a guy who wants to be an aviator (but in the navy instead) and it’s also a damn good love story. But Officer is a much superior film in all respects. It’s one of those old-fashioned love stories that provides enough “oh-so-sweet” moments for the die-hard romantics but at the same time has some substance, character development and above all, a sense of plausibility – something which most romance movies today lack. Richard Gere stars as Zack Mayo, a young guy who grew up without a mother – she had killed herself when he was a small child – and a lousy father who spent most of his time drinking and chasing whores.
From the outset, Mayo is shown to be a rebellious guy who is determined to make it through his program, no matter what. Fed up with the long and miserable existence he had endured so far, he decides to annoy his father one day by leaving for the Naval Academy. There he meets a local girl Paula, played by Debra Winger, who may or may not transform his life for good. The film works in large part due to the dynamite chemistry between Gere and Winger. However, not every scene gives you that warm feeling inside. Those moments are sporadic and before it gets to the finale – which has now become one of the most iconic moments in cinema – it takes you through some relatively dark moments as well, especially one which involves Mayo’s best friend Sid Worley (played by David Keith). Mayo and Paula’s relationship is put to the rest and a lot of it has to do with their parents’ fucked up marriages.
Despite Gere and Winger showcasing some of their best work here, it’s Louis Gossett Jr. who really steals the show, in his Academy Award-winning role as the drill sergeant Emil Foley. Right from his first scene, he is an incredible screen presence. What’s interesting about the Foley character is that he is not like the hard-as-nails and badmouthing drill sergeant we’ve seen in films like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket but he has a more compassionate side that he displays on more than one occasion, and this makes him the most likable drill sergeant I’ve seen so far in movies. There are plenty of standout scenes featuring him and Gere but the one I loved the most is where he, after discovering that Mayo is guilty of a small misconduct, puts him through an excruciatingly rigorous drill to make him quit the school. When Mayo is finally pushed to the edge, he pleads with Foley to let him stay because he has nowhere else to go and it’s then you realize what a nice man Foley really is. The terrific soundtrack features some classic hits from the 80s’ hits such as Joe Cocker’s ‘Up Where We Belong’ and Dire Straits’ ‘Tunnel of Love’.