Courage Under Fire Movie Review

Movie Review By Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Imagine going through life without thinking about the consequences?

On February 25, 1991, Colonel Nat Serling (Denzel Washington) is surveying the wreckage of one of the M1A1 Abrams tanks that was under his command during an offensive in the Gulf War. An M1A1 tank that he had given the orders to fire upon because he had mistaken it for an Iraqi T72 during the confusion of a fire-fight. In the distance, a Bell-Huey medical evac helicopter takes off, piloted by Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan).

Six months later, Serling has already faced a hearing on the friendly-fire incident, and the Army is planning to keep the truth suppressed about all friendly fire incidents as long as possible. Serling has lied to the parents of the officer under his command that died from his mistake. The consequences of the incident and the Army's handling of it eat away at Serling, and he is being pursued by a reporter (Scott Glenn), who wants to find out what happened. Serling is then reassigned by his superior officer, General Hershberg, to investigate the suitability of a post-humous nomination for the Medal of Honor, the first such nomination going to a woman-- Captain Karen Walden.

Serling begins the investigation and speaks to the surviving soldiers about the Bell-Huey crash and the subsequent events, and soon finds discrepancies in the stories of the soldiers. Each contradictive narrative of the event in question is played out, "Rashomon"-style, portraying Walden as a hero, coward, and a victim. And so a parallel develops as the two story threads play themselves out-- Serling coming to terms with the consequences of his own actions in the friendly-fire incident, and his search for the truth about Walden, a possible victim of those unwilling to deal with the consequences of their actions. In the end, Serling learns that often that the measure of courage is not the actions under fire, but how one deals with the repercussions following from those actions.

I think that in order to honor a soldier like Karen Walden, we have to tell the truth, General, about what happened over there. The whole... hard...cold truth. And until we do that, we dishonor her and every soldier who died, who gave their life for their country.

Now this is the type of movie that Hollywood should be making more of. Directed by Edward Zwick ("Glory"), it successfully melds the two camps of film-making, the upscale-film-that-says-something and the big-budget-blockbuster. With well-choreographed battle scenes, shifting points-of-view, excellent pacing, and a great script, this is proof that there is still a glimmer of hope in the machinations of the Big Six. Highly recommended.

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