The pilot of a rescue copter, Captain Karen Walden, died shortly before her helicopter crew was rescued after it crashed in Desert Storm. It first appears that she made a spectacular rescue of a downed helicopter crew, then held her own crew together to fight off the Iraqis after her copter crashed. Lt. Colonel Serling, who is struggling with his own demons from Desert Storm, is assigned to investigate her worthiness for the Medal of Honor. But some conflicting accounts, from her crew and soldiers in the area, cause him to question whether she deserves it.Written by
Brian W Martz <B.Martz@Genie.com>
To prepare for his part in the film, Denzel Washington met with two combat veterans from the Gulf War, to ask about their experiences there, and any particular memories that had stuck with them since the war. See more »
The first crashed helicopter is always referred to as a "Black Hawk", which is the Sikorsky UH-60 utility helicopter. But the helicopter shown in the film was a Huey, like Walden's. In fact, it also had a red cross on the door, meaning it must have been a medevac helicopter, which makes no sense for a refuel unit. See more »
Few of us are given the opportunity, even fewer the courage to sacrifice ourselves for the lives of our comrades. In daily life, even as in battle each one of us is mysteriously and irrevocably bound to our fellow man. And yet, it is only in death that the power of this bond is finally tested and proven. And who among us really knows how he might respond when the moment comes?
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The story is a simple one. Washington is a Lt. Colonel responsible for some accidental deaths during a tank battle in the Gulf War. The experience leaves him feeling pretty lousy. He neglects his family and begins drinking. He's assigned to investigate the suitability of Meg Ryan as a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. She was flying a medevac helicopter to a crash site when her aircraft was shot down by small arms fire and, apparently, she stayed behind voluntarily and ordered her crew to save themselves while she covered them. Washington interviews the crew members and gets different stories. In one story Ryan behaves heroically as described. In a second, she is a coward and collapses under fire. In yet a third, the truth emerges. Yeah, it's Rashomon, but not as original or subtle.
Still it's pretty good. And, Gott sei dank, it is not a story in which a woman proves herself as a good as a man, despite the fact that she is a member of the weaker sex. (What condescension.) Meg Ryan is a capable and courageous officer who happens to be a woman. Her sex is important to the politicians who are positively drooling over the prospect of awarding her the decoration, but isn't really important to the narrative.
The performances are better than I'd expected. Everyone, in fact, is quite good in their different ways. Matt Damon, in particular, gives a sensitive performance as a guilt-ridden medic, and looks the part, somewhat ascetic, his facial features askew with uncertainty. Meg Ryan doesn't have a chance to do more than shout orders with a Texas accent but she registers pain and determination well. Lou Diamond Phillips is perhaps the least articulated character, but that may be the fault of the role as written, which is fairly complex but a little obvious. Denzel Washington is the central figure. He's good as carrying that burden of guilt left over from his battlefield mistake but isn't too convincing as a drunk. In the end, he relieves himself of some of that torture by visiting the parents of one of the men he had killed and confessing his part in the incident. The first few times I saw this I kept thinking what some other actors would have done with this scene, but the last time I found his incarnate remorse rather moving.
There is one scene delicately shot, an uneasy exchange between the lying Damon and the perceptive Washington that's beautifully staged and acted, and another memorable first encounter between Washington and Phillips, in which both actors probe the edges of insubordination. Michael Dolan stands out in a featured bit part as a hospital orderly.
The battle scenes are well done, although a little confusing, as I'm sure they would have been at the time. Some generic conventions are adhered to. Four of our guys can slaughter dozens of them. The enemy runs headlong into a hail of bullets. But there are some interesting twists given to the situation. The Iraqis on the other side of the hill can be heard laughing at our boys (and our woman). And the ending is revisionist, but I won't go into it. Justice outs, let's say that.
It's a worthwhile watch for any number of reasons. Craftsmanlike if not poetic.
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