Courage Under Fire [1996]

Director: Edward Zwick
Stars: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Moriarty, Matt Damon
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 117 minutes

A year after a devastating friendly fire incident during the Gulf War, Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) is in a Washington, D.C., desk job assigned the rudimentary task of overseeing a Medal of Honor candidate who died in the war. However, the case and soldier in question are a political hot potato--Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) is America's first female soldier to be killed in combat. Serling soon finds discrepancies in the case of a downed Medevac helicopter in the rocky Kuwait territory. What unfolds in flashback are several versions of Walden's tactics (à la Kurosawa's Rashomon) to rescue the soldiers and survive the downing. As with Glory, Director Edward Zwick's cast of unknown and famous faces always comes off as the real article. Walden's crew is especially convincing. Matt Damon as the medic comes off as the giddy scaredy-cat when telling his story to Washington. In battle he's a flawed, humorous soldier. The most surprising work in the movie is done by Lou Diamond Phillips (as the group's gunman), whose career had been headed to straight-to-video oblivion. Then there's Ryan. She has done well with dramatic work in the past (When a Man Loves a Woman, Flesh and Bone) but has never been able to escape the romantic-comedy image. With dyed hair, a light accent, and the dramatics of the situation, Ryan finally has an enduring dramatic film. Even though she has half of Washington's screen time, her brave and ultimately haunting performance makes Courage something special, right down to its curious but rewarding final scene. --Doug Thomas

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