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Courage Under Fire/B, A

US/1996/Color/Widescreen 1.85:1/DD, Surround/116 minutes/Directed by Edward Zwick/Starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan/Disney/29 Chaps/CLV/THX/$39.98

Courage Under Fire is put together like the pieces of a puzzle. Had it been a great puzzle, a mind bender of spectacular resonance, the movie might have been an order of magnitude better. As it stands, the drama is somewhat diffused by the deliberate cross-cutting between the action under investigation and the investigation itself.

Edward Zwick is a fine director who consistently displays a sense of pace and an eye for the dramatic scene. Zwick’s war scenes, whether from the magnificent Glory or the overblown Legends of the Fall, are dynamic and exciting. Zwick uses the medium to its fullest, combining the power of his images with nerve crackling sound.

Denzel Washington is always a fascinating actor to watch. The man lights of the screen with movie star presence, but the role of Lt. Colonel Serling is far from charismatic. The Washington casting provides a history for the character that might otherwise be non-existent. Such is the value of a star presence. While the Colonel is in many ways a weak character, we understand the star will overcome the shortcomings built into the character by the script. It’s a valuable element in making movies and that’s why there are stars and other celestial beings plying the acting trade.

The style of Courage Under Fire is reminiscent of Rashoman, the classic Kurosawa film, in which events are retold differently by various witnesses to an incident. Serling, wrestling with his own misgivings about a Gulf War decision to open fire mistakenly on friendly armor, is given the task of investigating the nomination for a Congressional Medal of Honor of Captain Karen Walden, killed in action during a different Gulf War engagement. Gradually, through the process of investigation, Serling comes to terms with his own conduct.

The script by Patrick Sheane Duncan breaks no new ground and some of the characters are somewhat cliched. Under Zwick’s hand, Courage Under Fire is a powerful film that develops beyond the capabilities of the script. Photographed by Roger Deakins, this is a beautiful looking film. James Horner’s score is occasionally too emotionally revealing.

Courage Under Fire is the kind of laser disc that makes you wonder why anyone would want a better delivery system than this. It’s a dramatic transfer with powerful contrasts and intense bursts of color. The night time war sequences are brilliantly depicted with deep blacks and contrasting explosive bursts. The sound is sparkling as well. A very fine laser disc production