“A Soldier’s Story” is a film directed by Norman Jewison based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play. It was shot on a small budget because the studio questioned its box office potential. It turned out to be a modest success and made a profit. It was a hit with critics and was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar), and Adapted Screenplay. The movie was filmed in Arkansas and Governor Bill Clinton provided the National Guard for a scene.
The movie is basically a military mystery from the subgenre that includes “A Few Good Men”. Sgt. Waters (Caesar) is murdered on a base in Louisiana in 1945. He is part of an all-black unit training for war in Europe. A black lawyer is brought in to investigate the case. Capt. Davenport (Howard Rollins, Jr.) is not welcomed by anyone. Noone wants to tell him the truth. He does determine that Waters was a martinet and a racist - a black racist. Waters was especially hard on the darker skinned blacks and the Southern blacks who he felt embarrassed the race. There are any number of people who would have wanted him dead.
The movie is well-acted by a very good cast. It includes Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, and Robert Townsend. Caesar is outstanding as the loathsome Waters. Rollins is solid coming off his star-making role in “Ragtime”. The film is very dialogue driven which is no surprise given its source. The low budget also contributes to the feel of a play. One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is the soundtrack by Herbie Hancock. The screenplay is thought-provoking because it deals with a type of racism that is seldom dealt with in movies. The mystery is solid with some typical red herrings, but a satisfactory conclusion.
GRADE = B-