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Film Review - Courage Under Fire
It's a given that large and small organizations tend to want to control "the truth." Some people call this "spinning the truth" or just "spin." To others, the truth is an absolute. Courage Under Fire is about truth.
I've always liked Denzel Washington. He is an actor who always gets into the meat of his character. In Courage Under Fire, Washington is assigned to investigate a Medal of Honor candidate, the first woman to be nominated. The award would be posthumous, and Washington sets out to interview the surviving crew of her helicopter.
Washington has another task in this film. During the Gulf War, he commanded a tank unit. His tank fired upon and killed another U.S. tank by mistake. The commander of that tank was Washington's friend, and he was ordered to lie to the man's parents about the circumstances of the death. Washington plays a man of honor raked with conflict. When can he tell the whole truth? If he never does, can he remain an honorable man? Washington must find answers to these questions.
A real strength is that the U.S. Army is not made out to be the bad guy. Michael Moriarity plays the general who is Washington's superior. He wants a report filed and filed quickly. He doesn't care what is in the report, one way or another; he just wants the pressure on his shoulders relieved.
In a way, the White House is painted in a bad light because it wants to honor this female captain, and it wants to spin the truth to its own advantage. It doesn't want the whole truth, because that's ugly.
Washington's character is in a bind. He's under orders to clam up about the truth of his own mistake, and told to file a report, even though it isn't complete or accurate in the Medal of Honor case. Washington is in turmoil until he can satisfy both truths. Only then can he see that he really was a hero who probably saved the lives of dozens of soldiers.
The rest of the cast is superior. Meg Ryan plays the captain who has been nominated. All of her scenes are remembrances of others. She played the same scenes over and over, each with a different perspective.
Lou Diamond Phillips' character was less demanding, but that doesn't get in the way of a fine performance. More than that I will not tell you, else to spoil part of the plot.
Courage Under Fire is a movie that is more than a war flick. It's about truth and honor. These are not absolutes, but beliefs that we as individuals must decide, and live with.
Directed by Edward Zwick
Released in 1996
MPAA Rating: R
Reviewed by Mongo