Saturday, January 26, 2013

CRACKER? Courage Under Fire



              “Courage Under Fire” is a film by Edward Zwick (“Glory”) that uses a “Rashoman” structure to explore the fog of war, friendly fire, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The movie reteams Zwick with his “Glory” star, Denzel Washington.  The script is by Patrick Sheane Duncan (“84 Charlie Mopic”).  It was released in 1996 and is one of two major motion pictures that are set in the Persian Gulf War.  The other being “Three Kings”.  Both films are what I simply call “modern war movies”.
Serling:  "Get some!"
                Washington plays Lt. Col. Nathan Serling.  Serling is suffering from PTSD due to a friendly fire incident during the Persian Gulf War.  While leading a tank assault on the opening night of the ground war (with burning oil wells in the background), he fires on a tank commanded by his friend Capt. Boylar.  The Army awards him a Silver Star for that night and covers up the incident.  He is put in a desk job, but he is haunted by the accident.  He is drinking and is separated from his family.   His commanding officer Brigadier General Hershberg (Michael Moriarity)  gives him an assignment to help him recover.  He is to investigate the possible awarding of the Medal of Honor to a female soldier.  The Army expects him to give the green light to this publicity bonanza, but Capt. Karen Walden’s (Meg Ryan) story is complicated.
"Don't shoot till you see the men"
                The official story is Walden flew her medevac Huey to rescue a downed Black Hawk crew.  Taking fire from an Iraqi tank, Walden’s crew dropped a fuel cell on the tank and set it afire with a flare gun.  They still went down, however.  One of the crew (Rady) was badly wounded.  They held out under fire through the night.  The next day they were rescued, but Walden was killed and left behind.  She’s a heroine, right?  Or was she actually a typically cowardly female?
the brave version of Ilario
               Walden interviews the surviving crew members and a “Rashoman” theme develops as there are two distinctly different versions of what happened.  Specialist Ilario (Matt Damon in his first big role) confirms Walden’s heroism, but his account is suspicious.  The film reenacts Ilario’s version.  The opposing view is offered by Staff Sergeant Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips).  He is a card carrying member of the “He Man Woman Haters” Club.  In his reenacted version he is Rambo and Walden is Olive Oil.  Who is telling the truth?  Is the Army trying to give a medal to Sally Piss Panties?


Cobras versus Iraqis.  Spoiler alert: we kick ass!
                Herschberg pressures Serling to issue a rubber-stamped report.  When he refuses, he is taken off the case.  Would you believe he decides to pursue the truth on his own?  (You’ve seen movies before, haven’t you?)  He is aided by, you guessed it, an investigative reporter named Gardner (Scott Glenn) who is actually investigating the friendly fire incident.  The subplots intersect.
                I won’t give away the rest.  There are some interesting twists.  We get to see what actually happened in reenactments of both the Walden scenario and the Serling friendly fire incident.  Everything is tied up in a nice, tearjerking ball.
                This is a multi-layered movie.  It juggles several themes and two major plots.  The themes include:  shit happens in war (friendly fire), the military likes to cover up shit that happened, the authorities want heroes (or heroines) for the masses, PTSD can effect even the strongest personalities.  The plots of Serling dealing with his trauma and investigating the Walden case weave together effectively.  Duncan’s script is strong.  There are some cool twists.  The “Rashoman” elements are well done and entertaining.  It is not obvious which recreations are the truth  It gets a bit hammy in the end, but remember this film was made for a mass audience, not for hard core war movie nuts.  It is not a cynical movie.  This is part of what I mean by a “modern war movie”.
Monfriez:  "Say you hate women soldiers"
                The movie is technically sound.  The cinematography is outstanding.  The combat scenes are visceral, if a little too pristine.  The soundtrack is restrained and does not push emotional buttons too much.  The acting is top notch.  No surprise that Washington is amazing.  He does tormented like no other.  His scenes with his wife (Regina Taylor) are powerful.  She holds her own, by the way.  If you want to see a master at work, watch his visit to Boylar’s parents to tell them the truth about their son’s death.  The rest of the cast is excellent.  You can see Damon’s promise as he portrays the drug-addled Ilario.  He lost forty pounds for the later scenes.  An example of method acting that damaged his health for a while.  Phillips is surprisingly good as the macho Monfriez.  He gets a great death.  Moriarity portrays the general as compassionate, but part of the establishment.  Glenn is appropriately rumpled as the news hound.  Kudos must go to Ryan.  She has to play too totally different characters in the flashbacks.  She pulls it off without looking silly.  No small feat.
a Centurion playing an Abrams
                As far as accuracy, the movie is not based on a true story.  You can see a seed of inspiration from the incident in the Battle of Mogadishu ("Black Hawk Down") involving the snipers (Shughart and Gordon) that rescued Durant.  But, intentionally or not, I found the tale of Jessica Lynch to be another possible inspiration.  Lynch was captured during the war and the early press reports had her as a female warrior.  The truth turned out to be a lot tamer and less heroine-worthy.  The movie is a bit unrealistic on two accounts.  The tank tactics in the friendly fire incident has the M1A1 Abrams (actually disguised British Centurions due to DOD withdrawal of support for the film) virtually hub-to-hub in formation.  This isn’t the Napoleonic Wars, Zwick.  The medevac Huey is too well-armed for a chopper with a red cross on it.  These dudes were hardly noncombatants, but the movie does not make the case that the tank should not have fired on them and I can see where medevac crews might arm themselves beyond the Geneva Convention rules.  The dropping of the fuel cell is clearly ridiculous, but Hollywood has to have its explosions.
                “Courage Under Fire” got some love from the critics and did acceptable box office, but I am obviously a bigger fan than most.  I have read criticism of the conclusion, in particular.  However, if a movie can draw a tear from me, I’ll man up to it and say kudos.  Any other criticism of the plot is perplexing.  Some of it may be critics being critics and not reacting well to anyone attempting to copy “Rashoman”.  Boy, are they protective of those classics!  But since most people don’t have a clue about “Rashoman”, chill out.
              Sadly (and shamefully) I read a review by a war movie expert who I respect and he disliked the movie partly because he could not see a female soldier behaving bravely in combat.  That is bull shit!  Let’s face it, it may be against the law, but we have had females in combat since the Gulf War.  It’s just the nature of the “war with no front lines” that we have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan (and future locales).  I have read nothing to indicate that our female soldiers have become sniveling cowards when the bullets are flying around.  The Walden character is believeable and in the not too distant future we will have our first female Medal of Honor awardee for combat action.  You go, girls!  

grade =  A
 
Since I wrote this review, the Pentagon has announced plans to allow females to become combatants beyond fighter pilots.  Looks like we will see that female Medal of Honor winner sooner than I expected. 
 
 

14 comments:

  1. I really agree with you and never understood all the critical reviews I've read. I think it's very well done and the actors are great. It's a personal favourite. Top 100, why not. There are worse movies on that list. It's a great story and the combination of themes is interesting. I watched it more than once and liked it every time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In light of your review I will have to go back and revisit this. I didn't like it, but I may have missed the point. It's been known to happen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This will be a return of the favor as some of your reviews have made me rethink and rewatch as well. Sometimes when you see a film your mood at the time affects your feelings toward the movie.

      Delete
  3. When I was a corpsman in a MEDDAC (i.e., Army hospital), there was a rule that the psychiatric ward had to have at least one male staff member on duty on every shift. Presumably, that was in case of emergencies (e.g. if a patient got violent and had to be forcibly restrained). Even back then (1978-81), the policy seemed sexist. I even know of one case where a pregnant nurse single-handedly restrained a patient while two male corpsmen stood a safe distance away and did not try to assist. If all of this seems like an off-topic rant, my point is this: there are both men and women who can cope with emergencies (including combat), and there are both men and women who can't or won't. I've known a lot of women that I would rather have on my flank in combat than any spoon-fed yuppie girly men.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your input. Interesting story and topical. My view on this is similar to my view on female doctors. I figure if a female makes it to that position they have to be among the best. Same could be said for female soldiers.

      Delete
    2. Or was she actually a typically cowardly female? When I saw this written in a blog I said I must reply to someone who serious feels this way. Really? Unfortunately you do not know the history of this world it was women who started in battles and somehow the men took over that position and titles. It has been women who continue to fight to this day for veterans and volunteer their time and services to get laws changed and I do not see one man whoever took that time to even care. No woman gives birth to a son or daughter ever wants a child to die at the hands of friendly fire which is a joke or at the hands of someone Who thinks they have the right to make a decision that could harm or hurt another human being no matter what the consequences are. Some people in the business that get paid for a living think that they have the truth or the fact checkers when honestly you don't Those records are usually on publish in federal court and they do not get put in a book but they do get put in an archive somewhere whether it's open to the public or under lock and key or in a vault. Those records are usually on publish in federal court work and they do not get put in a book but they do get put in an archive somewhere whether it's open to the public or under lock and key but Jen or in a vault Why don't people understand the number one reason why history is destroyed is to make sure that no one finds out the truth and we can see in the books under the senses of Native Americans in the United States of America that to family members can have two different opinions one saying yes they are Native American and the other one goes no they're not. As a medical provider just sad in a serious meeting and one of the states in the United States said this and every human being has PTSD every human and I will say that again even you as the blogger who takes a look back at all these reviews it is called PTSD as a memory I will not say what VoLunTeeR titles I've had but it really bothers me when a degrading human grade the woman who gives birth I guess just want make sure they kept your legs closed And that should be put on a billboard Every veteran no matter who they are and every civilian should be recognized for their services whether they work or they did not work whether they volunteered or they did not volunteer no one has the right to throw that stone so all the memorials and all the cemeteries and all those who are lost at sea and those who were lost in the air or wherever they were deceased from deserves our respect On this Mother's Day I guess I was meant to take a look at the shortening of a movie to be reminded of all the things we have done her yard to see every human deserves this to you is the truth than all honesty even in a court of law you cannot use the word assume you always have to have facts. And as some riders will put in their books their opinions their thoughts just like every website it's their opinions it's their thoughts and less you see it in actual writing and you hear from their moms that you got a remember it is in their account of what happened whether we like the answers or not I think you wore movie buff and if you have serve give more time or you did not and you were a civilian I think you for at least this blog that it was accidentally I came across looking for Karen Walden find a grave memorial. And sync your end of movies and history of wars and you know the true story of Dracula and he wasn't a vampire Thank you

      Delete
  4. "Rashoman" may be one of the most copied movies ever. It was officially remade as a Western, "The Outrage," in the 1960's. The premise (witnesses telling conflicting versions of an incident) has been used for a lot of TV shows (offhand, I can recall episodes of Maude, All in the Family, Mama's Family, S.W.A.T., Magnum p.i., and Star Trek: The Next Generation). So I don't know why critics would suddenly get hysterical about Courage Under Fire using a similar plot device. Maybe those TV episodes were under the critics' radar, while Courage Under Fire was a "major motion picture."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's just a theory of mine. I have no proof of it. I feel it explains their defense of the classics over clearly better modern movies. Another theory I have is that critics always love movies about movies. Witness "The Artist". This theory might also partially explain the unbelievable win of "Shakespeare in Love" over "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture.

      Delete
  5. This is an interesting review, but Jessica Lynch was actually the Iraq War (2003) not the Gulf War, so is unlikely to have been an inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops! My bad. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Delete
  6. Totally agree. I really enjoyed the movie when I watched it. The acting was excellent, there were no easy answers, just people coping with horrible situations. Definitely deserves to be in a top 100 list. The film deals with concepts that have been largely overlooked by Hollywood, especially PTSD.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What can you tell me about the PTSD in this film?

      Delete
  7. I did not like this movie. I had no problem with the film making the female soldier look brave. What I hated about the movie was that to emphasize her bravery they made the male soldiers look like incompetent idiots.

    ReplyDelete

Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.