Courage Under Fire is a memorable military drama, told from a number of angles that keeps the story unique. Denzel Washington is almost always guaranteed to provide something worth watching, and undoubtedly elevates Courage to another level on his own.
When a helicopter goes down during a rescue mission in Operation Desert Storm, the Captain is killed in action after an overnight struggle. That Captain, played by Meg Ryan, is about to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, but Nat Serling (Washington) feels there’s something more to the case.
What’s unique about this script is that instead of focusing solely on Serling’s investigation, Serling himself is also undergoing his own personal struggle, also based around a Gulf War incident. The concurrent problems propel this story, keeping the plot interesting and engaging. It also gives Washington more to do on screen than interview people, and his character a purpose for wanting to know more.
Action is prevalent as each survivor details their story. Each sequence is slightly different, but never any less intense. Edward Zwick was already experienced with war after directing Glory and Legends of the Fall. His first (and to date only) modern attempt is as effective as his historical works. It can feel repetitive, but the slight changes to each new version make them worthwhile.
Also interesting is the various scenery used in each of the interviews Serling conducts. All of them have something different in terms of visuals going on, whether a sickly-looking Matt Damon is at a pool or Lou Diamond Phillips is taking boxing lessons. It breaks up the monotony of what could have been dull talking head pieces, and it loses none of the drama or impact for it.
Courage is a Gulf War film that never feels manipulative or trying to capitalize on current events. Even now, into a second Middle East war, the film doesn’t feel aged which is impressive and testament to the staying power Courage offers. Still relevant and engrossing. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
A rarity for a ‘90s catalog release, Courage actually looks great on Blu-ray. Colors provide excellent pop, the contrast is superb without any noticeable fading, grain is left intact, detail is wonderful, the print is perfect, and it’s reasonably sharp. On the negative side, there are soft shots scattered throughout, edge enhancement is far too prevalent, and artifacting is a constant problem.
The low bit-rate MPEG-2 transfer shows through, particularly bothersome during the sequence around the 52-minute mark. Michael Moriarty’s face is a mess of pixelization. There are numerous other scenes with the same problem, although this was the most evident. With better compression and lack of artificial enhancement, a re-release could be stellar. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
While the opening action scene seems like this will be a demo worthy disc, it’s quickly apparent the dialogue is mixed ridiculously low. You’ll constantly be fiddling with the volume to try and equalize everything, but it’s not possible. Trying to raise the volume to understand the words only means the action will put you one step closer to deafness.
That said, the combat does sound great. Surrounds are aggressive, and bass is phenomenal. Tank fire and helicopter engines provide the sub with plenty to do. Tracking is excellent as vehicles move through the sound field. There’s also some ambiance, such as birds chirping during a forest conversation. Sounds great, but the equalization is inexcusable. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Surprisingly, the movie never had a true special edition. Edward Zwick provides a solo commentary that’s quite detailed, but sadly there’s no behind-the-scenes footage to go along with it. A trivia track provides no details about the film itself, but deals with stuff like post traumatic stress syndrome instead. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]