In 1996, Edward Zwick directed, Roger Deakins filmed, and Patrick Shaene Duncan wrote the script for the commercially successful Desert Storm film, Courage Under Fire.
The premise surrounds an alcoholic, guilt-ridden, lt. Colonel (Denzel Washington) who can’t forgive himself for ordering the fire at tanks in Desert Storm and inadvertently killing his own men. A general who is his friend, tries to save his career by assigning him the task of determining the posthumous candidacy of the Medal of Honor–the first woman, Captain Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan.
The easy assignment becomes complicated when the surviving team gives dubious reports to events. Matt Damon dropped 40 pounds during the film to become medic, Ilario, and shows the effects of guilt and drug use. His performance attracted Steven Spielberg who cast him in 1998 in Saving Private Ryan. However, the best performance of Courage Under Fire was Lou Diamond Phillips who commanded each scene he was in. He delivered his multi-dimensional character, Monfriez, with conviction and blazing energy.
Meg Ryan did not work for me in this film. She was supposed to be the tough leader in command and her Virginian accent and hoarse barks weren’t convincing at all. I love Meg as an actress, but her upturned top lip and dewy eyes did not match the hoarse voice or convince me she was in pain. Shot in the stomach, she belts out, “I gave birth to a 9 pound baby, I think I can take it, asshole.” Just awful.
This brings me to the weakest point of the film. The script. I liked Mr. Holland’s Opus and Nick of Time but Patrick Sheane Duncan’s script was flat with campy military talk, clichés, and cheese, cheese, cheese. I’m a fan of Edward Zwick, but this was not one of his better films. Even Roger Deakins cinematography seemed lack-luster. Overall, the film wasn’t that bad–it was better than mediocre. There were highlights such as character actor Scott Glenn. Denzel Washington gave a solid performance. The best part of the film was Lou Diamond Phillips. I wondered why his career didn’t take off after this film.
Mary Edwards Walker 1832 – 1919
There’s only been one Medal of Honor awarded to a woman for combat in U.S. history and that goes to Mary Edwards Walker.
Born in Georgia and died in New York, she obtained her medical degree and volunteered as a civilian in the Union Army. She volunteered to be a spy for the Union. She applied and was refused multiple times as a surgeon and only allowed to be a nurse. Eventually in 1863, the Army of the Cumberland contracted her as a surgeon. In 1864, she was captured and sent as a prisoner of war to Castle Rock, Richmond, Virginia for being a spy. Four months later, she was released in a prisoner exchange. For the rest of her life, she devoted herself to woman suffrage and was an ardent feminist. She frequently wore pants and was arrested several times for impersonating a male. She died at age 86, one year before the passage of the 19th Amendment allowing women the right to vote.
She’s one of 8 civilians awarded the Medal of Honor. What a woman.
Check out more about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker at this site: