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Courage Under Fire

Edward Zwick's 1996 Courage Under Fire offers an ambitious, Rashomon-style narrative told in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, and despite its broad scope, it succeeds with a well-crafted script and several strong performances. Denzel Washington portrays U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling, who — after being involved in a tragic friendly fire incident during the Gulf War — is assigned to investigate the death of Captain Karen Emma Walden (Meg Ryan), who is about to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for defending her downed helicopter crew in the Iraqi desert. Walden would become the first woman to win the Medal of Honor in combat, but Serling soon discovers that her surviving crew members have conflicting accounts of her death, as well as what transpired during their overnight ordeal, pinned down by Iraqi troops and with little chance of survival. And when Serling thinks he's about to discover the sordid truth, he comes up against the Army brass — themselves under political pressure from the White House — to submit a report, any report, that will allow the medal to be awarded, and the less said about it the better. Washington is tasked with carrying the bulk of Courage Under Fire, and his performance is both somber and thoughtful, conveying enormous emotional pressures without the need for flowery dialogue. Ryan has an equally challenging role (told entirely in flashbacks), and one where she's cast against type, but the plucky sweetheart of American film is surprisingly convincing as a somewhat butch helicopter pilot who has to command an all-male team under strenuous combat conditions — including Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips, who deliver detailed characterizations of soldiers who, for differing reasons, feel compelled to hide the truth. Zwick — no stranger to large, complicated shoots (Glory, The Siege) comes up with two magnificent set-pieces (the opening tank battle with Washington, the helicopter assault and crash with Ryan and crew), in addition to the numerous small dramatic scenes that sustain his engrossing, contrapuntal plot. Fox's DVD edition of Courage Under Fire features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in either DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1, or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include an informative commentary with Zwick, as well as the theatrical trailer and TV spots. Keep-case.

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