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20th Century Fox presents
Courage Under Fire (1996)

"It's not the doing sh-- that gets to you. It's the consequences. Imagine a life without consequences."
- Ilario (Matt Damon)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: February 26, 2001

Stars: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan
Other Stars: Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon, Scott Glenn, Seth Gilliam, Michael Moriarty, Regina Taylor, Bronson Pinchot
Director: Edward Zwick

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for For war violence and language
Run Time: 01h:56m:19s
Release Date: December 26, 2000
UPC: 024543010821
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When the first images of Desert Storm flickered across my television in the early 1990s, I was sure that films based on the "conflict" would be popping up at the local multiplexes. It took nearly five years, but in 1996 Edward Zwick's Courage Under Fire hit theaters and provided a sobering look at the war. While not wholly about Desert Storm, the picture does include it as a backdrop, but the movie is more about finding the truth and doing what is right, regardless of the consequences.

As the film opens Lieutenant Colonel Nat Serling (Washington) is a tank commander during the Gulf War. On a February night, he and his troops are engaged in a skirmish with the Iraqis and when he mistakenly gives the order to fire, he accidentally hits one of his own tanks. While committing an act of "friendly fire" is bad enough, Serling soon finds out that he in fact destroyed the tank being controlled by his best friend. Since that night, Serling has become burdened with guilt. In his downward spiral he becomes an alcoholic, his marriage is in danger of ending, and even the government he works for is doing their best to cover up the problem.

After serving his tour in the Gulf, Serling is relocated back to Washington where he now spends his time researching and investigating potential medal recipients. When he is asked to approve of a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for Captain Karen Walden, a helicopter pilot during the war, he intends to do so. Walden's act of bravery came when she saved the lives of her men while losing her own in the process. As he begins to unravel the mystery he discovers discrepancies in the stories of the survivors of the troop. Each of the men, including the medic Ilario (Damon) and the over-the-edge Monfriez (Phillips) are hiding something, and Serling becomes determined to find out what it is.

It would have been easy for Courage Under Fire to have fallen into overlong speeches and grandstanding, but it doesn't. While the search for the medal is at the forefront of the screenplay, other moments, such as Serling's failing marriage, are treated with the same importance. Even the final scene isn't done with flair nor is it a showcase for Washington to finally prove the truth and give a long monologue: it is one simple shot that speaks volumes. Adding another nice touch to the direction by Zwick is that he uses the Roshomon approach for the recollections of the night in question, well done by never showing the same shots twice in the flashback sequences.

Led by Zwick regular Denzel Washington, the cast is uniformly perfect. Washington, who was robbed of an Oscar® for his role, gives what I feel is the best performance of his career. Meg Ryan, who has always been a good actress, also gives one of her best performances here as Captain Karen Walden. Matt Damon, in an early role, is one of the best things about the film and his scenes with Washington are a joy to watch. Lou Diamond Phillips also gives a fine supporting performance.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio this anamorphic transfer from FOX isn't as good as some of their more recent titles, but it gets the job done. Sharpness and detail are both perfect, and black levels are smooth and deep. There are a few print scratches that pop up occasionally, but they are never enough to worry about. The muted and bleached colors of the Desert Storm sequences come across very well on this transfer, and there are a few isolated moments of pixelation. Overall this is a very nice transfer from FOX.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The first time I saw Courage Under Fire theatrically was in a brand new theater with an amazing sound system. I have no problem saying that this DVD mix sounds better than it did theatrically. From the explosive opening scenes to the plane fly-over at the end, his mix never lets up. In the battle scenes the surrounds and bass are used aggressively, and in the quieter moments dialogue sounds clear. James Horner's score comes across beautifully.

Released with both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix there are very few differences between the two. The DTS track provides a clearer soundstage with more definition than the Dolby Digital mix. A Dolby 2.0 French and English track are also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English and Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Edward Zwick
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 054m:55s

Extras Review: While not packed to the brim, Courage Under Fire does offer up a nice assortment of extra features. The most notable supplement is a commentary track by director Edward Zwick. Zwick has a lot to say about the performances and the character development of the film, but he never really delves into the production aspect that much. There are a few moments of silence in the track, but for the most part Zwick makes it an enjoyable listen.

The remaining extras are focused more on the promotional aspect of the film. Three theatrical trailers as well as three TV spots are available, as is a short six-minute making-of that offers interviews with the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Courage Under Fire is a powerful, moving and thoroughly engaging film that is worth your time. The extra features, as well as the video and audio transfers make this disc a must have. Recommended.


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