Courage Under Fire (1996)

R   |    |  Action, Drama, Mystery

Courage Under Fire (1996) Poster

A U.S. Army officer, despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander's worthiness for the Medal of Honor.

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  • Matt Damon at an event for Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • Meg Ryan in Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • Denzel Washington in Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • Meg Ryan and Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire (1996)

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23 August 2004 | bob the moo
An average 'he said, she said' drama that has a better list of names involved than it deserved
Nat Serling returns from the Gulf war having been involved in a friendly fire incident. Even though he is cleared, he still carries the guilt but is looked after by the army and helped into a comfortable job in the Pentagon. He is assigned to assess the nomination of Captain Karen Walden for the medal of honour – an seemingly open and shut case that everyone wants to be passed for the public relations opportunity of awarding a woman captain the posthumous medal. However, when Serling starts to investigate he finds some minor differences in the stories and the more he pushes the survivors the more the story starts to fall apart. Despite the pressure from his superiors, Serling continues to dig for the truth.

Looking back at this film now it is perhaps a little frustrating how little it seems to critically analysis the issues behind war and politics and instead just plays it as a straight thriller with the Gulf only serving as a background and not as subtext. With this aspect put to one side the film just about manages to work as a thriller but not a particularly good one. The plot is very much 'he said, she said' stuff and it is not as dramatic as it would like to think it is. The film tries to inject pace into it with a series of extreme actions by the characters and the excitement of the battle sequences but really it doesn't amount to a terrible lot. The subplot over Serling's incident never really feels relevant and was either tacked on or badly handled to the point that it seemed tacked on. Either way the plot is not as involving as it really should have been – it does OK enough to make it worth watching once but it's no great shakes.

The cast is impressive though and contains many stars as well as faces that have become a lot more famous since this. Washington is troubled and interesting, even if he has to occasionally switch on the worry on request. He is a good leading man and has good presence; his delivery goes part of the way to helping inject a bit of urgency into some of the scenes in this rather talky film. Ryan was a strange choice but I suppose she was desperate to have something to show her range. While it is easy to dismiss her performance, she is OK but it would have been a lot better if her performance had changed more that it did between the few accounts – but I guess her range is not as wide as she would like to think it is. Outside of these two the main players are those in Walden's crew; Damon looks very young and does OK, Phillips is physically impressive but his character is difficult to totally swallow and Gilliam is a lot more understated than he was in Oz. The rest of the cast is populated by a large number of well-known faces including Taylor, Ivanek, Pinchot, Astin, Glenn, Thomas, McGill, Hall and Jenkins. Few of them have anything to do but their presence was rarely a distraction to me although I can imagine some viewers might be put off by the 'where do I know him from' factor.

Overall this is an average drama that is talky and relies on the actors to try and inject into a plot that is really just about the different characters trying to cover their own backs. The cast are mostly good but Ryan's reach exceeds her grasp and they are mostly let down by average material. Worth a watch once for what it is but I can't imagine too many viewers will be returning for a second look.

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