Washington and Ryan in a Gulf War "Rashomon"
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 11/05/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The basic plot line of "Courage Under Fire" is that Lt. Col Nathaniel Sterling (Denzel Washington) is investigating an incident during the Gulf War to determine whether or not the Medal of Honor should be awarded to Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan). It does not take us long to find out that the title of this film refers to both Sterling and Walden. The initial story on Walden, the pilot of a rescue helicopter, is that she made a spectacular rescue of a downed helicopter crew, then fought off attacking Iraquis after her own copter crashed, dying right before they were rescued themselves. But as Sterling questions the surviving members of Walden's crew, he discovers their various versions do not jive, and he begins to question what is the truth. Moreover, Sterling is haunted by his own actions during the Gulf War, where he was responsible for a "friendly fire" incident that resulted in the death of American soldiers. To complicate matters, Sterling is drinking too much, has grown distant from his family, and is being hounded by a commanding officer who wants the P.R. value of Walden receiving the medal and a reporter who knows something of what happened to the Colonel in Iraq. "Courage Under Fire" makes excellent use of the "Rashomon" technique, wherein we get to see each person's version of what really happened in Iraq. Sterlings own feelings of guilt and responsibility for what happened in Iraq provide an additional level of depth to the narrative (more so than in Kurosawa's original classic film in fact). Some may find the parallel attempts to find redemption to be somewhat heavy handed, but ultimately the film succeeds because of the solid acting performances. In addition to Washington and Ryan, who knew have a scene together, there are solid performances from Lou Diamond Phillips and a very underweight Matt Damon as surviving members of Walden's crew, Michael Moriarity as the General, Scott Glenn as the reporter, and Regina Taylor as Sterling's wife. Certainly this film is closer to the reality of Desert Storm than "Three Kings," but the main enjoyment here is watching Ryan and her crew do the same lines with totally different meanings because of radical changes in context while Washington tries to find meaning in his own life."
Wonderful, Engrossing Movie
Adam Dukovich | 08/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of my favorites. A movie that will keep you guessing till the very end. Nat Serling is sent home from the Persian Gulf with traumas and few prospects after being in a friendly fire incident. He is given what should have been an open-and-shut case: investigate a female chopper pilot for the Medal of Honor. Things become tricky quickly as Serling's support is withdrawn when he discovers discrepancies in the witness' stories and he will have to risk everything to find out the truth about what happened on a dark night in Iraq. Magnetizing throughout, this picture is well-conceived and very compelling, and it has messages about society. Excellent directing and writing, as well as amazing acting, this movie shines."
POWERHOUSE MILITARY MYSTERY STUDDED WITH TOP-CLASS ACTS
Shashank Tripathi | Gadabout | 08/07/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"War movies rarely acknowledge fatal blunders alongside the typical nimble strategies all in the same vein, much less in the same individual. Courage Under Fire manages that with an effortless tapestry of morality, valour and honour.
Apart from such sheer emotional freight, it even manages to counch a discreet message about the quirks of real wars and their very human aftermath. There are points in the film where both the Iraqi and the American soldiers look almost indistinguishable. Fighting nations with crunch budgets is a complex enterprise with a variety of perspectives.
There is much to say about the plot's setup, it's spectacular. Denzel is heads and shoulders above everyone else but the performances are excellent all-round. Matt Damon seemed to have lost half his weight to fit into the role. Meg Ryan is very convincing for her irregular turn as a leathery war woman. But above all, I was particularly astonished by the confident pizzazz of Lou Diamond Phillips, his explosive cameo is one of the most unforgettable sequences.
With its highly realistic battle scenes, fast-paced screenplay and a solid heart , Courage Under Fire is a top class production, regardless of the qualms regarding nationalistic or gender messages that other critics bloviate about. My theory that you cannot go terribly wrong with anything that involves Denzel still remains intact."
The Gulf War Via Intelligent Flashbacks
Lawrance M. Bernabo | 11/29/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an action movie with big-name stars but no flying cows, exploding chewing gum or invading aliens. Not that smashing special effects aren't cool. It's just that Courage Under Fire, while reconnoitering some previous military movie terrain, demonstrates the potency of a film that's well acted and directed and tells a solid story. To wit: An Army officer (Washington) relentlessly searches out the truth about what happened the night a medical-evacuation pilot (Ryan) and her crew got trapped behind enemy lines during the Gulf War. The pilot, who died in action, has been nominated for a posthumous Medal of Honor, but as Washington interviews the men who served under her, he finds worrisome discrepancies in their accounts of the episode. (The movie, tipping its helmet to Rashomon, shows each survivor's differing version in flashback.) What gives the story its greater resonance is the fact that Washington is a man questioning his own honor, having mistakenly given an order to fire on his own men during the Gulf War.Washington is excellent, nicely underplaying his big scenes and ably conveying a righteous man currently ill at ease with himself. Ryan, seen only in the flashbacks, is convincingly gritty. In supporting roles as members of Ryan's crew, Phillips and, especially, Damon are standouts. Courage is unfailingly intelligent. It is as moving as you suspect director Ed Zwick (Glory) thinks it is. The script is logical and compelling, its pieces fitting together like Lincoln Logs. Yet, this one indeed rewards the adult in us."