Courage Under Fire (Edward Zwick)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Courage Under Fire is being trumpeted as the first movie about the Gulf War, and also the first movie about women in combat. In fact, it isn't really about either of those subjects, and it might have been a truly great film had it managed to intelligently address one or both of them. Instead, it's merely a mighty good mystery melodrama in a military milieu. [Let us now pause in recognition of the coolest unintentional alliteration I've ever penned...thank you.] The lead roles were perhaps not ideally cast -- a tortured, brooding alcoholic seems to be a bit out of Denzel Washington's range at this point, and I didn't really believe that Meg Ryan belonged in those fatigues -- but their performances are nonetheless reasonably solid, and the supporting cast, including Michael Moriarty, Matt Damon, Regina Taylor (saddled with an unfortunate Wise Spouse role), and Scott Glenn, is uniformly excellent. I winced when I saw Lou Diamond Phillips' name during the opening credits, but Lou apparently learned to act sometime during the past six years (I'd last seen him in 1990's Young Guns II -- this was back when I saw virtually every studio release, okay?); he delivers a terrific, blistering turn as a vindictive musclehead. The script, courtesy of Patrick Sheane Duncan (who wrote and directed the superior 84 Charlie Mopic several years back), errs on the side of feel-good hokiness -- the last few minutes, in particular, are nigh-well unwatchable -- but its riff on Rashomon's analysis of subjectivity is more compelling than I would have expected. (Of course, since this is a Hollywood film, there is an objective Truth out there, and it's Denzel's job to find it.) Not at all bad, but a movie that actually tackles the issues that this movie glances over would be most welcome.