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HBO presents
In Pursuit of Honor (1995)

"When they muster up the troops, they thank them for their service and wish them well. They do not march them behind the barracks and shoot them. The cavalry is men and horses. We have a tradition and duty to protect them."
- Lieutenant Marshall Buxton (Craig Sheffer)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: July 05, 2001

Stars: Don Johnson, Craig Sheffer, Gabrielle Anwar
Other Stars: Robert Gunton, Rob Steiger
Director: Ken Olin

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for depiction of violence against animals
Run Time: 01h:49m:44s
Release Date: May 08, 2001
UPC: 026359122927
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+A- C-

DVD Review

In the new age of iron warfare in 1935, the once-heralded cavalry has become obsolete. In order to free up time and money for the creation of new machines, General Douglas MacArthur has dissolved the cavalry and decided to terminate an entire legion of reliable horses. Grizzled veteran Sergeant John Libbey (Don Johnson) and young Lieutenant Marshall Buxton (Craig Sheffer) have been chosen with three other experienced soldiers to escort 500 horses to Mexico for slaughter. The order appears ridiculous and inhumane, but MacArthur seriously believes this action will assist the army in future endeavors. Both Libby and Buxton have past incidents of insubordination where their honor overcame feelings of duty to superiors. However, they agree to begin the journey and plan to carry out the orders with heavy hearts.

In Pursuit of Honor presents a tight, compelling true story about the conflict between personal honor and the rigid structure of the military. After witnessing the appalling slaughter of the first 100 horses, Libbey and Buxton face a pivotal split-second decision. Will they sacrifice their position in the armed forces to save their mounts from pointless destruction? Their choice is not a surprise. Libbey has proven in the past that he will reject orders that go against his conscience, and Buxton is young and idealistic. Unfortunately, their choice may cost them the ultimate price in an apparently futile effort to escape the wrath of MacArthur. While they push the horses north towards a safe haven, the troops inch closer and exert serious efforts to retrieve their property.

The murder of animals is never an easy subject to depict on screen, and the scenes in this film rival the most disturbing in my memory. While a majority of the brutal violence occurs off-screen or is presented in quick shots, the effect is disheartening and unforgettable. Director Ken Olin (Doing Time on Maple Drive) aligns our point of view with the cavalry to help us to understand the terrible nature of this deed. The destructive sounds and brief images of wounded horses toppling over caused me to wince several times and left an indelible mark in my mind. The horrific violence exists here in all its fury to present the motivations for the rash decision. After viewing this slaughter, any other choice was unthinkable for these soldiers of conviction and morality.

Don Johnson has risen to stardom on television in popular mainstream cop fare such as Miami Vice and Nash Bridges. Although both shows have garnered devout followings over lengthy runs, neither really has provided a true test for his significant acting abilities. Itıs often easy to forget the tremendous talent hidden within his wisecracking television persona. In this film, Johnson perfectly embodies the ethical and military skills of Libbey, a broken-down soldier struggling to discover life again. After the order is given for the horsesı execution, he enters a drunken stupor that displays Johnsonıs wide emotional range. While Shefferıs Buxton leads the group, itıs Libbey that keeps his comrades following the energetic leader through his patient acceptance of his actions. Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, The Program) provides a firm moral center, but Johnson anchors the story with his tough stature and exceptional performance.

In Pursuit of Honor succeeds through the efforts of an excellent supporting cast of characters that bolsters the story and lifts it to greater heights. Bob Gunton has made a living playing characters similar to Colonel James Hardesty in films ranging from The Shawshank Redemption to Broken Arrow. His character strictly follows the rules of the army and is unwilling to stick his neck out to save anyone. Also, Hardesty expresses animosity towards people who refuse to bow down to his authority. Rod Steiger delivers an impressive performance as Colonel Owen Stuart‹the retired former leader of the cavalry. Although he receives a limited amount of screen time, his resolute stubbornness is easily understandable through Steigerıs stern countenance. Along with his lovely daughter Jessica (Gabrielle Anwar), he struggles within the system to enlighten the army to their wrongdoings.

Even within a score of wonderful acting performances, this film would fail without the support of a solid script. Without any unnecessary emotional flourishes, writer Daniel Lynton Clark keeps this true story realistic with straightforward dialogue and emotions. While their honor drives them, the main characters donıt waste time having haughty discussions about philosophical issues. The writing is precise and keeps the action moving towards the final showdown. Although we learn little background, the characters remain interesting due to an intriguing story and effective dialogue.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: In Pursuit of Honorıs 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer exists in a similar vein to several other HBO releases that Iıve reviewed in the past. It features bright colors and a fairly clear picture that contains few defects or specks on the print. However, there is a significant amount of grain that especially stands out during the nighttime scenes. The outdoor shots look excellent and include the majestic scenery of the snow-covered lands of the north. The overall transfer works nicely, and the less-than-pristine presentation only slightly takes away from the impressive scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer is a top-notch stereo track that contains an impressive level of detail and clarity. The sounds of the herd rumbling across the plane move very effectively from left to right and produce an excellent viewing experience. While I would prefer a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track, this transfer makes the most of the limited depth and provides plenty of powerful moments. The volume level remains solid and combines smoothly with the images to create additional tension and force within the story.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: In Pursuit of Honor contains a detailed cast and crew section that provides information on the five major actors, director Ken Olin, and writer Dennis Lynton Clark. The biographies cover several pages and give a nice overview of their careers. Each filmography is extensive and also lists producer credits for the actors. My one complaint concerns the font of the text, which is extremely small and borders on being indecipherable. With that exception, this area works impressively and contains interesting material. This is the lone extra feature on this disc, which lacks even the expected preview trailer and brief making-of documentary.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

HBO has consistently released impressive films that go well beyond the scope of the typical television movies of the networks. In Pursuit of Honor is yet another example of a compelling story that has received the proper treatment from this ambitious cable network. It features excellent performances from Don Johnson, Craig Sheffer, and numerous others and presents an interesting story of triumph over the inhumanity of the military machine.


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