Courage Under Fire (1996)

Substance has slammed into the summer season with the landfall of
COURAGE UNDER FIRE, an imposing and entirely affecting military 
drama that reteams Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington with his 
GLORY director Edward Zwick.  This time, we're witness to a modern 
conflict, as the movie opens on a friendly-fire incident during the 
Gulf War.  Commanding a compliment of armored vehicles, Lieutenant 
Colonel Nat Serling (Washington) gives the order to fire on what is 
thought to be an enemy target.  His men die, instead.  Six months 
after the end of the war, Serling is working on his own death-- a 
slow suicide via Scotch-- when he is assigned to investigate the 
approval of a posthumous Medal of Honor for a helicopter pilot (a 
gritty Meg Ryan) who died in the war.  A discrepancy in the 
surviving accounts piques Serling's interest and, soon, he begins 
uncovering the truth about many things, including his own suffering 

COURAGE UNDER FIRE carries surprising emotional weight, even as it 
all too often relies on familiar dramatic devices.  You may wince 
at such seeming cliches as Serling grasping for the whispered words 
of a dying man lying on a hospital bed.  Or his clandestine meeting 
with a newspaper reporter (Scott Glenn) complete with trench coat, 
sunglasses, and, amusingly, a Redskins cap.  The too-polished plot 
is as potentially distracting as the tightrope casting (Ryan, with 
a slurred Southern accent; Lou Diamond Phillips as a buffed and 
tough solider; Bronson Pinchot as a White House spin doctor).  
Credit a couple of rock-solid performances (including Washington 
and Michael Moriarty as the commanding officer) and a no-nonsense 
approach by Zwick and screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan (MR. 
HOLLAND'S ANUS, NICK OF TIME.)  Their frank presentation of the 
subject matter and a unflinching attention to detail help drive 
home the point that the consequences of war are hell.  Go and have 
a good cry. (Rated "R"/117 min.)

Grade: A-

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: July 14, 1996

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