The darker side of the military is a touchy subject for Hollywood, as it’s supposed to be an outfit that sets a glowing standard of honour and nobility for everyone. But, like any other business or organization, it has a flip side too, and in Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire we see just what can go wrong in the ranks when no one is looking. Denzel Washington plays a traumatized gulf war vet who is tasked with assessing whether a heroic, deceased helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) is worthy of the medal of honour, which would be awarded to the first female officer in history. Only problem is, testimonies from her fellow comrades in arms simply don’t add up. Two in particular, played by a gaunt Matt Damon and an excellent Lou Diamond Phillips, certainly know more than they let on and appear to harbour some deep guilt riddled scandal. With some help from a stern superior general (Michael Moriarty) and a journalist source (Scott Glenn) Washington must navigate this minefield of misdeeds and deception, and the story takes him to some fairly visceral, intense places. It’s just shy of melodrama when the secrets do come out, the third act a horrifying exposé, everyone’s expectations and image of the platoon unravelling. The rest of the soldiers are played by a hectic bunch including Bronson Pinchot, Zelijko Ivanek, Sean Astin, Sean Patrick Thomas and Bruce McGill. Ryan fares well in a role that’s essentially just a plot device, as we already know the eventual outcome of her arc, but she adds mystery and resilience to the scenes she does get. It’s like a political horror story, this one, showing the absolute worst outcome of a situation like this, and the lengths some scared individuals will go to smother any mention of it. Zwick handles the broad strokes well, and we end up with quite a stalwart, fiercely made war piece.
Who’ll Stop The Rain is a sadly forgotten Nam era film that deftly blends genre better than most movies can ever hope to. The level of quality ratio to the amount of people who remember it is criminally unbalanced, but that’s commonplace in cinema. The title comes from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song of the same name, serving as both a metaphor in itself and a theme for the film, an anti war outcry that warbles forth beautifully at least five different times during the movie, becoming the script’s national anthem. Plus,who can say no to CCR on loop. It’s actually one of the best and most fervent anti war films out there, showing you an extended look at just how many ways the Vietnam War followed soldiers home and infected many customs, institutions and individuals. That kind of important sentiment wrapped up in a thriller is the kind of package I strive to find in film, and this is a glowing example. Nick Nolte plays Ray Hicks, an american GI getting ready to head back stateside after a tour. His best buddy John Converse (Michael Moriarty) convinces him to smuggle a brick of hash back with him and deliver it to his wife (Tuesday Weld). Only problem is, that ain’t where it ends. The people John was in contact with turn out to be a dodgy bunch, and before Ray knows it he’s o the run from some very dangerous dudes with his best buddy’s wife in tow, headed straight for a violent confrontation via a slow burn of a plot that sits on a low boil before you realized it’s reached a fever pitch. Nolte and Weld are a corrosive romantic couple, making the downbeat best of their situation, evading two nasty drug runners (Anthony Zerbe and Richard Masur being scary and classy as fuck) and getting a feel for each other along the way. Thriller. Drama. War. Moral dilemma. This one’s got it all, in a very specific concoction that never forces anything and treats you to more than it ever promised, before you have the chance to realize it. All timer stuff.