Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, even when they want to tell the truth. As an Army lieutenant colonel reconstructs a battle scene in “Courage Under Fire,” he begins to suspect that some of his witnesses are lying. His assignment: decide on the suitability of the first woman ever nominated for a Medal of Honor. His problem: The White House is salivating over the media image of presenting the posthumous medal to the woman's young daughter, in a ceremony in the Rose Garden.
The colonel, named Serling and played by Denzel Washington, is determined to do his job honestly and well, even though his own life is falling apart. During a night tank battle in the Gulf War, he was indirectly responsible for taking out an American tank with friendly fire. An Army investigation excused him, but now his sleep is fragmented by nightmares, he's drinking too much, and he has moved out on his wife and children. The investigation is about the only thing holding him together.
The woman under consideration for the Medal of Honor is Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), who commanded a helicopter in the battle zone. After taking out an enemy tank by the refreshing improvisation of dropping a fuel tank on it, Walden's chopper was shot down by enemy fire. Nearby American troops heard M-16 fire, apparently by the wounded Walden, that kept the enemy at bay the next morning, until her men could be rescued. For this she certainly deserves the medal--if that's how it happened.
Edward Zwick and Patrick Sheane Duncan, the director and writer, construct their screenplay with a nod to “Rashomon” (1950), Akira Kurosawa's famous film in which four defendants give their wildly different testimony about a murder. In “Courage Under Fire,” the witnesses are Walden's own men. Ilario (Matt Damon), the medic, paints Walden as a brave leader sacrificing her life for her men. Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), the gunner, says, “She was afraid, Colonel. She was a coward. That's the bottom line on your Capt. Walden.” Another crew member, Altameyer (Seth Gilliam), languishes in a veterans' hospital, confused by painkillers.