A Rashomon-like story about the difficulty of establishing the truth about heroism and soldiers’ behavior in combat, Courage under Fire is a carefully conceived, dramatically honorable picture that treats its subject with clarity and intelligence, especially by contemporary standards. Notable as the first major studio release to deal with the 1991 Gulf War, Edward Zwick’s high-minded new outing offers plenty of old-fashioned movie virtues such as believable action, plausible psychology, fully played-out confrontations and honest emotions.
Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) is leading an armored tank battalion in nocturnal pursuit of fleeing Iraqis. Suddenly, an empty-looking desert is filled with action, and Serling, in haste and confusion, orders his gunner to fire at a suspicious tank, only to learn shortly that he has killed several of his own men with his ‘friendly fire.’ Protected by his superior officer, Gen. Hershberg (Michael Moriarty), the guilt-ridden Serling is shuffled into a routine Pentagon job. For p.r. purposes, the White House is particularly anxious that Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) receives a Medal of Honor award posthumously. Serling begins speaking to the survivors of the Medevac chopper accident in which Walden was the pilot, and realizes that what happened among Walden’s crewmen was far from clear-cut. Crucially, the testimony of three soldiers varies significantly.
All of Serling’s predicaments are palpably and convincingly registered through Washington’s probing, reserved and sensitively drawn performance in a role that, in another era, might have been played by the likes of a Montgomery Clift or William Holden. The same can’t exactly be said for the other characters, who are boldly etched but exist mainly as expressions of set attitudes rather than three-dimensional people.
Shot in Texas, pic looks impressive.