Reviewed by: Dale Mason
Viewers who hunger for hard-edged suspense will love this action-packed mystery, set during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Were it not for more than 75 expletives, the movie may have squeaked by with a “PG-13” rather than an “R” rating. In a strange way, it is good that it scored the less marketable “R” since slightly fewer movie watchers will be influenced by its subtle social messages.
“Courage Under Fire” is a film about human nature. It reveals the struggle of two totally unrelated individuals—a helicopter pilot and a tank squadron commander—to do the “right thing” when that decision is absolutely the wrong choice in the eyes of their companions.
Helicopter pilot Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) has been posthumously recommended to be the first woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism during combat. Tank squadron commander Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) carries the mental weight of knowing that his order to fire upon the wrong tank during a nighttime battle in the Iraqi desert was the direct cause of the death of his best friend, and several other soldiers. While the facts of his own incident are being examined, Serling is assigned to the Pentagon. There he must investigate whether Karen Walden was a hero, or a coward whose actions on the battlefield are being covered up by the men who served under her.
Serling locates and interviews those men and soon learns that they are, indeed, hiding the truth of the battlefield incident. Flashbacks during each man’s recounting of the situation keep the audience guessing. Though pressured by his superiors to just sign off on the Walden investigation so that her medal can be awarded, Serling is frustrated and guilt-ridden by his beloved Army’s desire to sweep his own “friendly fire” mistake under a thick beurocratic rug. Emotionally ravaged and teetering on the edge of both divorce and alcoholism, Serling puts his own life in danger so that the truth about Walden might be found. That “truth” is, predictably, politically correct.
It is important to recognize that through the production of this exciting but fictitious drama, a small team of skilled filmmakers has accomplished in a season what would otherwise have required years. Their achievement goes far beyond the box-office success of this indisputably entertaining film; millions of Americans now have a new openness to the objective of some that women and mothers serve on the front lines of combat. (Yes, mothers. The Karen Walden character is a single mother who has chosen not to leave the military once divorced. She leaves behind an 8-year-old daughter.)
Though we have the greatest respect and highest admiration for the men and women who serve in the military, especially those who put their lives at risk during times of war or other unrest, we must expose the social engineering objectives of this otherwise exciting movie.
If you choose to see “Courage Under Fire”, do so with your mind alert, and with a heart full of gratitude to those who have given their lives in military service to our nation.
(This film includes some graphic scenes of violence; men burning inside a tank and a man committing suicide by driving head-on into an oncoming train. There is no sex or nudity, other than a quick shot of a man in an athletic supporter.)
Year of Release—1996