Fine cast, troubling issues, searing sights--tough stuff.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Courage Under Fire" is a biopsy of a slice of war. Using the device of relentless repetitions of one incident, director Edward Zwick forces us to look through his microscope, while writer Patrick Sheane Duncan lobs powerful contemporary questions our way: How do we feel about single mothers in combat, about using high-school kids as napalm targets? Will men under the ultimate stress obey a woman? Why do men line tanks up and send them forth like British redcoats in the American Revolution? These are the toys of politicians.

Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) has become a posthumous candidate for the Medal of Honor for her service in the Gulf War. Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) is the officer assigned to investigate her qualifications. Since the collective military mind has decided it is time to recognize a woman, General Hershberg (Michael Moriarty) is looking for a rubber- stamp report that will allow the army to congratulate itself with a presentation ceremony in the Rose Garden. He reckoned without understanding the weight of Col. Serling's personal baggage.

Serling also served in the Persian Gulf, where he was involved in a tragic incident of friendly fire. Exonerated by his superiors, he is expected to use the Walden investigation as his final step to recovery. But because the reality of his own tragedy was carefully buried under a cover of military lies, Serling is driven to get at the truth of Karen Walden's behavior. He must look for the truth in the minds of her Medevac helicopter crew. As Serling interviews the survivors, we watch the same grueling incident through the eyes of each of them. Over and over, we see the chopper crash and then watch the crew fight for life under enemy fire while dealing with a command problem among themselves. These airmen are now in a ground war with the enemy and with each other. What really happened during the night after their crash lies in the tangled mess of human memory that will yield answers for the investigator.

If the crewmen are stereotypes, they serve well as structure for the story. Each is used to prove a point, to provide a piece of the puzzle Serling must assemble, and each is acted well. Lou Diamond Phillips delivers as the macho male even though his character could be dropped into any war movie we've seen since 1940. We've seen him too many times. Scott Glenn captures the conflict between humanity and the need for the truth that simmers in a good reporter.

Denzel Washington brings great dignity to the distressed officer who can't compromise his integrity, and Regina Taylor is very good as his wife, who can help her husband only by holding the family together. Leaving her winsome charm behind, Meg Ryan gives an uncompromising, consistent portrayal of a woman proving herself as a military pilot. Fine cast, troubling issues, searing sights--tough stuff.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : 20th Century Fox
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h55m

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