Courage Under Fire Reviews
The cast is A grade, however, the movie is a tad too long.
If you like Denzel movies this is one of his earlier flicks and he always displays top shelf performances.
This is not for everyone no kiddies allowed and if you like war movies you would like this one.
Saw this on 29/9/15
It's ultimate result is predictable, but the paths towards the same are not. Though this is the weakest Edward Zwick film after Love and other drugs, this military film benefits from the fine performances delivered by Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan and Matt Damon.
An investigative drama, the film obviously offers plenty of exposition as it goes alone, but not necessarily about Denzel Washington's leading Nathaniel Serling character, whose immediate development is lacking, and whose gradual characterization is sometimes thinned down for the sake of focusing on Meg Ryan's Karen Walden character's story, which is itself improvably fleshed out, despite the film's possessing a runtime of almost two hours that it achieves partly through dragging. Even as one of Edward Zwick's more minimalist dramas, this film gets to be aimless in its struggling to find things to do, and I'd be a little more willing to accept that if the film didn't have a tendency to run to familiar material to keep busy with. This is actually a fairly unique war drama in a lot of ways, so when uniqueness lapses, it's all the more glaring, for although the film is never truly trite, there are formulaic occasions, many of which were kind of bland to begin with in their consequentiality. Really, whether they be familiar or refreshing, many aspects to this intimate war drama are a little too minimalist to be all that dramatically juicy or tense, and no matter how limited, the natural shortcomings stand, and Zwick struggles to compensate. Zwick has always been a sentimental storyteller, and no matter how genuine his efforts are in a lot of ways, when he gets heavy-handed with, say, James Horner's emotive score or some slightly melodramatic dialogue and visuals, subtlety lapses, ambitiously, if you will, cheesing up the dramatically worthy affair. This and other issues are light, but they still stand and are recurrent, threatening the reward value of drama which is somewhat minimalist in scale. Of course, the film's strengths ultimately prevail, being themselves limited, but prominent enough to endear pretty thoroughly, even if they're sometimes abused.
James Horner, in his third and final collaboration with Edward Zwick, turns in a formulaic and sentimental score that is often misused to establish a tonal sting to the histrionics, but more often used effectively, with a lovely and sometimes subtly intense tastefulness that works very effectively when it works in the film's tonal context. Just as he gets to be sentimental with his plays on scoring, Zwick often hits hard with his directorial plays, and not just on Horner's efforts, entertaining with a certain subtle snap to his plays with Steven Rosenblum's editing, and thrilling with a grand staging of gripping war combat sequences, rounded out with some dramatic tension. He has his overblown moments, as I've said time and again, but as a dramatic storyteller, Zwick is effective more often than not, using thoughtful pacing and heavy visuals in a manner that is audacious and genuine, establishing tension and, at times, resonance. Zwick is inspired, at least more often than not, and such inspiration meets ambition enough to compensate for the drama's overblown attributes, although it's not as though you can ever blame Zwick for all the ambition. For a war drama, the film dealing with an investigation of what truly occurred in the heat of a controversial battle, and with a soldier's struggle to bring his mind back home, is minimalist in scale, but worthy as portrait on the struggle to seek truth and peace of mind, with thoughtful direction to endear you to slightly undercooked, but worthy characters, though not quite as much as the performers. The film is intimate with its characters, of course, and it certainly feels that way, thanks to the inspired performances within a cast from which Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips stand out with their intense portrayal of men with dark secrets, just as Meg Ryan impresses in her layered portrayal of a military woman who may or may not have been as heroic as they boast, and Denzel Washington carries the film with his trademark subdued charisma, punctuated by a dramatic intensity that sells Nathaniel Serling's struggle with his duties and personal demons. This and certain other performances define the heart of this military drama, and no matter how dramatically flimsy the final product is at times, it entertains, bites and resonates enough to compel and reward as a portrait on war and humanity.
In conclusion, when not underdeveloped, storytelling is draggy, and when not refreshingly genuine, the film slips in conventions and histrionics which bring the narrative's minimalism to light to threaten the final product's reward value, secured by James Horner's tasteful scoring, Edward Zwick's stylish and thoughtful direction, and many a solid performance, - particularly by Denzel Washington - which secure "Courage Under Fire" as a generally tense and moving dramatic portrait on a search for peace within one's own humanity.
3/5 - Good
Some elements of Courage Under Fire are cliche, such as how it details the protagonist dealing with serious trauma due to an incident he has experienced before the key plot of the film shoots off, and it's often easy to forget the importance of the intro scene or even that it took place at all. But once the story gets going and truly develops, it becomes thoroughly interesting. I know that I personally was eager to get to the bottom of things and discover just what was being hidden beneath all the gunfire and all the people doing the talking but not the fighting. As the drama develops and more themes begin to seep into the story and set themselves in the movement of things, the tale becomes more and more intense, and with the exploration of the events interspersed with footage of the events themselves taking place in flashbacks, Courage Under Fire benefits from a fascinating story structure and a fascinating story, and it's a well scripted one which is intelligently insightful in some of the most simple ways. Even though at some times the story may be a little confusing, Edward Zick constantly keeps it in tact as a director so that it stays sufficiently well on path through its intense territory and its themes of honour, courage and redemption.
And Courage Under Fire features cinematography which ensures that it is filmed to precision. It is filmed in a very intense manner during scenes attempting to determine the truth lying beneath everything which gives it a nearly neo-noir film at moments, while alternatively during the war sequences it is shot on the grand scale to reveal the wide scope of the events and the explosive nature of them. It is simultaneously a big and small scaled film thanks to the narrative structure of the story, and it manages to make an impact as both.
The musical score in the film is also powerful because of how it has the true military feel to it as well as a lot of real emotion in just how it is composed. It works every inch of the atmosphere appropriately and reassures the mood of every scene when it is necessary.
And a large portion of the emotional effect that Courage Under Fire Deals out comes from the successful efforts of the diverse cast in the film.
It is not the slightest bit surprising that Denzel Washington gave a powerful performance, because his tenacious energy on film has never been anything but powerful, even if the film is poor quality like his work in the 1992 comedy Heart Condition. In Courage Under Fire he leads the story as a character facing serious personal struggles as he is faced with a complex whodunit situation in a war context. And the atmosphere follows Denzel Washington through his emotional states to ensure audiences are in tune with it, but in reality they never actually have to because the riveting power of Denzel Washington's eyes alone empower him as an actor, but combined with his incredibly humane physicality and facial gestures combined with his tenacious line delivery he proves to never collapse under the intense pressure of the story and simply delivers his character with an incredible dedication and tenacity as an actor. His leading talents are strong and give the story all the support it needs, single handily.
Meg Ryan gives one of the most fierce and intense performances of her career in Courage Under Fire, and as her character is the centre of all the mystery, Meg Ryan manages to second that theme by ensuring down to every detail that she is unpredictable in what her next move will be. For a woman predominantly more known for romantic comedies, none of which I have seen, she is flawless in the role of Captain Karen Emma Walden, and she has an impeccable charisma that will surely surprise viewers with just how effective it ends up being. Her performance is great, and she is constantly a source of interest thanks to both that and how the story treats her.
Matt Damon has significantly less body fat than usual in Courage Under Fire and he is practically unrecognisable at times. Yet the way it's easy to identify him is through his simple yet effective line delivery and his ability to deal with the real emotional drama of his character without ever slipping into cheap acting or melodramatic territory. I mean, I've seen Matt Damon as both a great dramatic actor and a successful action star, but he finds the middle man in Courage Under Fire by portraying a soldier with serious trauma as result of an experience that the viewers want to find out. He gives an impeccable supporting performance to the story, and within his brief screentime he proves to make it one of his best efforts.
Lou Diamond Phillips also pulls off an intense and memorable effort in Courage Under Fire for the burning spirit that lies within him, and Ken Jenkins does a straight job in his small time on screen.
The entire cast in Courage Under Fire proves to make a great effort, and all of them put something of their own into making it all it can be.
So Courage Under Fire is an intense and intelligent look at the more humane elements of war in both battle and the aftermath, and it is elevated by fine, stylish direction from Edward Zwick and a strong cast led by a magnificent Denzel Washington.