Courage Under Fire (1996)

Director: Edward Zwick

Cast: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon

Synopsis: Nat Sterling (Washington) is a Gulf War veteran who is assigned to investigate applications for the recipients of the Medal of Honour.   His assignment however is a political hotbed given that he is looking into the story of Captain Karen Walden (Ryan), the first woman to be nominated for the honour, who was killed in combat protecting her chopper crew.   While on the case, Sterling faces his own demons as a result of his own actions in the war.

A review by Film Nerd.

This film, unlike a lot of Zwick films, is not specifically covering a certain event in history.   However, it is a very powerful fictional story about personality conflict, and how people respond under a great deal of pressure.   To say much more than I have already listed in the synopsis is difficult, given it covers a mystery of many layers.   What appears at first to be an open and shut case of bravery enters some very grey areas.   It is by no means an uplifting film, but it is certainly one to make you reflect.

The mystery is the key to this film, and unfortunately it does get quite complex.   There is a very Rashomon element to it, with the same story being told from a number of different perspectives, each time telling an entirely different truth.   As such, a great deal of focus is required throughout.   Don’t be concerned if you lose the thread though.   I did on my first viewing, and yet the impact of the truth when it is finally revealed resonates.   Indeed, this was the first Zwick film I ever saw, and it was the impetus for me to seek out his filmography, particularly is other collaboration with Washington (Glory, to be reviewed tomorrow).

This is not a film of many likeable characters.  Even our protagonist is fraying at the edges, slipping into alcohol, neglecting his family, unable to forget that his actions resulted in the death of his best friend in a war zone.   The performances however are powerful, and keep you watching.   This was made in a period where every performance from Washington was pure gold.   The bit players are also great.   Phillips in his film roles can be hit and miss, but here he is paired with a director that makes his performance memorable.   Also, though not the first major role for Damon (he had already appeared with Brendan Fraser in School Ties), it was a film which confirmed his talent and aided him to greater things.   The true stand out is Meg Ryan.   She truly plays against type as the cussing, hard-boiled Captain Walden.   Before this film, I had no idea there was more to the traditional rom-com darling.

This is not a film for every audience, and the pace can be laborious at parts.  It especially doesn’t help that shifting time frames can confuse the details of the story.   But if you have the patience to ride it out, it is well worth it.   It might just start you hunting down some of the other Zwick titles.

3 stars (out of a possible 5)

Courage Under Fire on IMDB

Courage Under Fire on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZQE49MjyYQ]

0 thoughts on “Courage Under Fire (1996)

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