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Laramie Movie Scope:
Courage Under Fire

Washington gives Oscar-calibre performance in war movie

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 14, 1996 -- Despite the money rolling in to box offices this summer, there have been few good movies this year and only two have been exceptional films. Earlier this summer, there was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and now, "Courage Under Fire."

"Courage Under Fire," is tells two complex stories that parallel each other. One is told chronologically, the other in flashback. Screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan does a masterful job of storytelling, as does director Edward Swick.

What really brings the story to life is a masterful acting job by Denzel Washington, who plays Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling, assigned to investigate a medal of honor candidate. He is given the assignment after a tragic "friendly fire" incident in which he gives an order resulting in the death of his best friend.

Washington, who always seemed a bit cool to me, really gets into this role as a tortured man seeking redemption in the investigation. He wants desperately for something to believe in and he wants the truth after being forced to lie about the death of his friend.

The trouble is, nobody wants Serling to find the truth in the investigation. The truth is not as pretty as the fairy tale being told about the way that the medal of honor candidate, Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) really died.

Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a fine supporting performance as Monfriez, a soldier who knows the truth, but covers it up for his own reasons.

As Serling pursues the investigation he is told various differing accounts of what happened. We see these accounts unfold in a way similar to the Akira Kurosawa classic "Rashomon."

While Serling pursues the truth, he in turn is pursued by a newspaper reporter for the Washington Post who wants the truth about the "friendly fire" incident. The reporter, well played by Scott Glenn, finally gets a drunken Serling to admit what happened, but, feeling sorry for him, lets him do it off the record. The reporter gets his story in the end, however, and helps Serling find the truth.

It looks like Washington will get an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film. He deserves an Oscar. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1996 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)