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COURAGE UNDER FIRE. Directed by Edward Zwick; written by Patrick Sheane Duncan; produced by John Davis, Joseph M. Singer, and David T. Friendly for 20th Century Fox. Starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips. Rated R (language, intense combat scenes).


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Courage under Fire should come with a warning label: in spite of trailer scenes involving explosions, this is NOT your typical summer movie.

It requires the audience to pay attention, for one thing, and it's sure to keep you thinking (of all things!) long after the lights come up. Try Independence Day or Mission Impossible for your summer escapism; this movie is thoughtful and moving, offering much more than meets the eye.

Washington is Col. Serling, a Gulf War vet laboring under a load of guilt from his part in a friendly fire incident. He's asked to "investigate," but really just rubber-stamp, the nomination of a helicopter pilot to receive a posthumous medal of honor. The catch: the pilot was a woman (Ryan) and the first to be tapped for a combat medal of honor.

Consumed by his own concerns about coverups and truth-in-battlefield-reporting, Serling is determined to find out exactly what happened to Capt. Walden and her crew in the desert. He's especially determined after two of the surviving crew members (Phillips and Damon) tell him conflicting versions of the events.

Courage Under Fire offers a good bit of cynicism about the military in general and about the state of gender relations therein. And it paints a painfully intense picture of the devastating effects of guilt. To boot, there's first-class acting by everyone involved. From Washington, who has done military dramas (Glory, Soldier's Story, etc.) so well before, we expect no less. But given Ryan's mostly frothy, though enjoyable, recent efforts, her strong performance here is quite a surprise.

It takes a while to get there, and you have to think along with it on the way, but eventually Courage under Fire becomes a truly inspirational movie.

July 31, 1996

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