Today’s Prayer Focus

Courage Under Fire

Reviewed by: Dale Mason

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Action Drama
110 min (approx.)
Year of Release:

Starring: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips | Director: Edward Zwick

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.)

Viewer Comments

There are many Christians who questioned the motives behind U.S. involvement in the Gulf War from the beginning; I count myself among them. If a Christian scorns the “subtle social messages” and “social engineering objectives” of Edward Zwick’s “Courage Under Fire” (1996), perhaps she should first scorn the not-so-subtle messages and social engineering objectives machinated by the Bush White House, the Schwartzkopf military, and government-censored CNN coverage of the Gulf War.

Zwick, the director of Courage Under Fire (1996), has remarked that the media coverage of the Gulf war presented “Very artfully prepared soundbites and clips, [but not] a human face. And I think no war is as neat or surgical or as nice as that war was presented to be.

Part of my purpose was to present something that was much more layered, or messy, or not nice.”… Rather than beating the audience over the head with anti-war clichés, Zwick uses an elegant and understated style to convey the cruelty of war.Much is expressed through what Zwick does not show us. By leaving the truth about Cpt. Walden concealed, Zwick leaves some of the film’s conflict unresolved.

This incomplete closure leaves the audience feeling unsettled and ambiguous about the true nature of the Gulf War. If, as Christians, we are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and to discern the truth, we should question our government’s involvement in any war. My Ratings: [3½/5]
Louise Wright, age 30
“Courage under Fire” is a movie which I never ever thought would go on screen. The movie storyline is actually very interesting. The real meaning that I am trying to get is how a person is willing to stand firm in what he is doing and not let people’s views jam his point of view and instincts. He was even willing to dig every information he can get to just investigate whether that person (Meg Ryan) deserves a medal. Many of us know that sometimes what people say and the obstacles that we face in life can really be a big discouragement to us. But looking at the support Denzel Washington had from his family we know that with God nothing is impossible. Besides the truth of Meg Ryan’s death was also a lesson that I learned.
Chua Hui Kim, Singapore
The BEST film I’ve seen this year. There is so much depth in this movie—ranging from the confusion during battle to our personal struggle (and courage) to seek the truth…
Ed Woo, age 31
Women have been bravely dying for this country since revolutionary times… I object to your remarks about social engineering. I think it is just as sad when a father dies and leaves children behind.
Joan M. Donahue, age 43
Meg Ryan proves she doesn’t have to play in cute love stories to show her stuff. Denzel Washington deftly shifts services from the by-the-book submariner in “Crimson Tide” to the by-the-book soldier in this one. I’m distressed by (the) contention that, were it not for the 75 expletives, many in the heat of battle, this might have gotten a PG-13. The extremely vivid (but not glorified) violence and destruction helps it earn its R rating…
David E. Johnson, age 43