Zack Mayo is an aloof, taciturn man who aspires to be a navy pilot. Once he arrives at training camp for his 13-week officer's course, Mayo runs afoul of abrasive, no-nonsense drill Sergeant Emil Foley. Mayo is an excellent cadet, but a little cold around the heart, so Foley rides him mercilessly, sensing that the young man would be prime officer material if he weren't so self-involved. Zack's affair with a working girl is likewise compromised by his unwillingness to give of himself.
Don't believe the naysayers, this is a true uplifter. Zack Mayo, after years of being shunted around with his woman chasing, alcoholic naval father, decides to up sticks and join the navy himself. He plans to fly jets and enrols at a tough Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School. Very much a loner and used to doing things his own way, Zack must tow the line if he is to succeed. Forming friendships and taking on a romance with a local girl, he may just make the grade. But he has to convince not only his tough no nonsense drill instructor, but also himself. An Officer And A Gentleman has been bogged down over the years by being labelled as a chick flick, a film they say, that is for the soggy handkerchief brigade. Not so say I. Yes love is a critical strand here, not only finding it after years of being closed off from it, but also to keep it after seizing the day. But it's as much a film about determination as it is about conquering love, in finding strengths from within to achieve ones goals against seemingly badly stacked odds. It really is a film that essays that triumph of the will spirit so lacking in many similar pictures that followed this 1982 piece. There are some incredibly great sequences here, chiefly during the training programme, from Mayo's continuing conflict with Sgt Foley, to a devastating turn of events with a friendship. This film royally packs an emotional punch. The cast are uniformly excellent, Richard Gere as Mayo is pitch perfect and it pays to notice that he was a 32 year old man playing an early 20s rookie, it's a testament to his undervalued ability that nobody noticed. Debra Winger was nominated for a Best Actress Award for her portrayal as Mayo's love interest, Paula Pokrifki. It's believed that Gere and herself didn't get on off screen, it isn't noticeable, though, because the chemistry sizzles and the resulting end product is one of a joyous returns. Honours have to go to Louis Gossett Jr., though, rightly winning the Best Supporting Actor Award, his performance as instructor Sgt Foley is towering and one of the best of the 1980s. David Keith and Lisa Eilbacher also turn in strong performances, and Taylor Hackford's direction is smooth and without intrusion. The involving screenplay and tidy editing are also noteworthy, and the theme song "Up where We Belong" took home the gong for Best Original Song. Some critics have called the film sexist, oh come off it people! It may come as a shock to them but a lot of women do actually want to be carried off by some dashing hunk, similarly, a lot of us men are more than willing to be the ones carrying the maiden! And lest we forget that the characterisations here carry much depth. 9/10
This is really a film about a power duet - and we don't get that until the end. The rest of this is a rather mediocre outing for all concerned. Richard Gere - an actor whose stardom still, even now, perplexes me - is "Zack", brought up by his dad "Byron" (Robert Loggia) after his mother died. Now an adult, he must learn to stand on his own two feet. Determined to prove himself and follow his father into the military, he enrols in the Naval Officer School where he encounters the no-nonsense drill instructor "Sgt. Foley" (Louis Gossett Jr) whilst befriending "Sid" (David Keith) and "Paula" (Debra Winger). Now "Zack" is quite a shrewd fella, and is soon running a range of scams around the base that eventually runs him foul of his equally savvy instructor - and the two are soon at loggerhead: a relationship that tests "Zack" to breaking point. Off the base, he and his pal are dating "Paula" and her pal "Lynette" (Lisa Blount) and he must now juggle his sex life with his determination not to get drummed out of the regiment at the hands of his nemesis. There is, sadly, something really predictable about just about all of this. You just know what the plot is going to deliver, and though Gossett Jr. is quite effective as the bad-ass sergeant, the rest of the characterisations are about as shallow as an Ethiopian river in July. Like so many films on this topic, those portrayed in the forces come across as arrogant and dumb, and "Zack" - though handsome, does little change that perspective - even if his reason for wanting to succeed is rather more honest than many. Forty years on, I very much doubt we will see it on the "anniversary release" circuit. I did it's job then, a job that really doesn't need doing now. Like so many other of Gere's films, it's entirely forgettable. Not so much "Up Where We Belong" as "Down, Down, Way on Down..."