Courage under fire is another masterpiece result of Denzel Washington-Edward Zwick collaboration, backed by a good ensemble and crew. The kind of film that will remain with you after you have watched it. The film is about Col Nat Serling (Denzel Washington) committing a heinous mistake during a war at night with Iraq where he blew one of his own people’s tank. The army covers the incident and lies to his friend Boylar ‘s family and Serling is given a desk job. While he is trying to deal with the survivor’s guilt and ongoing cover-up of the incident, he is assigned to investigate and determine if Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) a chopper pilot, is worthy of winning the medal of honor, for her heroic sacrifice and bravery that saved two groups of soldiers during the war with Iraq.
The movie is shot in Rashomon-style story telling. We are introduced to different versions of Walden’s last moments in the battlefield from the soldiers who worked with her. Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips) claims that she is a coward, Ilario (Matt Damon) who is admired her leaderships skills and courage under pressure, Altameyer (Seth Gilliam) a paralysed soldier who claims that he was afraid and keeps repeating ” fire”; different stories we hear makes us question the moral grounds of the officers for whom she died. Serling is not convinced with one story and therefore he wants to serve the late officer justice by doing the right thing, i.e. tell the whole truth to the public. At the same time, he struggling with his own personal grief of killing his friend, in action. Over time, he becomes detached from his family and consumes alcohol. Edward Zwick provided many beautiful moments with his fast pacing style and artistic depiction of events. Every scene that had Mr. Washington in it will guarantee utmost standard of acting seen on screen. My favorite scene is the one where he owns up to his friend Boylar’s parents, we see the guilt, tension, and above all, the necessity for him to talk about it. The moral values shown by both Serling and Walden in their duties is the cherry to the cake of their respective characters. Meg Ryan stepped away from her usual romantic chubby girl image to deliver a controlled performance as Capt Walden. She is the commanding officer who is dedicated, fearless and sacrificing. The fact that Walden is the first woman to receive the medal of honor is the core of this story. As the leader of her group she wouldn’t waste a single life under her command, that is the greatness that makes her worthy of the medal of honour.
Matt Damon is fantastic in his role as Ilario, a soldier who is loyal to Walden and to his friends. The scenes he shared with Denzel Washington are worth mentioning as the crown moments. The film depicted Serlings connection with his wife (Regina Taylor) where he couldn’t express the horror going on inside his mind but she could make out anyway just by looking at his eyes and gestures. Edward Zwick never disappointed the mass and have delivered great films like glory, last Samurai, legends of the fall and one of the best films of that time, blood diamond. Courage under fire is an underrated film that definitely deserves its place in film history. The technical aspects make the stack of bricks for the master piece, although the sound distribution looks less impressive compared to the present digital recording. The cinematography captured the tension and thrill of the war sequences and emotions of the characters. The initial war sequence is shot well with stills and fast cuts. The soundtrack by James Horner is apt to the circumstances, and we get to hear the Titanic soundtrack here and there (Courage under fire is released before titanic). The tone used throughout the film reminds us of the decade and the emotions of the each of the character’s experience during the period of war and aftermath. Courage under fire is one of the best war films I have watched. I have also read forums in IMDB written by veteran soldiers and pilots who said that this film helped them heal and overcome PTSD and survivor’s guilt. If an admired medium could make a positive impact then it serves as it’s core success no matter how much money or critical acclaim it received.
Featured image: fox.co.uk