A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that violence and death in this war drama includes gunfire casualties at close range (with blood), a helicopter crash, and a car wreck -- the latter actually being a suicide. One character is a drug addict, and the hero has a drinking problem (but seems to kick the habit). Swearing is R-level, with the f-bomb and the c-bomb dropped on a few significant occasions, and there's one use of an anti-Arab slur. The script is not exactly anti-military, but lethally mutinous actions happen, and undercurrents persist of generals and Pentagon spin doctors covering up and suppressing the truth.
What's the story?
COURAGE UNDER FIRE takes place during "Operation Desert Storm" against Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the first Gulf War (historical background isn't downloaded in detail, but isn't absolutely essential). Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) is in command during a tank battle in which US guns accidentally mow down their own troops. With that shadow over him, the guilt-ridden officer gets a potential career-mending assignment: to approve the official report on war heroine Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), killed in action after a brilliant helicopter rescue of another unit under siege from Iraqis. As the first female American officer up for a Congressional Medal of Honor, it's a PR coup for the Pentagon -- but as Serling finds inconsistencies in the survivor's testimonies, he locks horns with his own superiors to learn the awful truth of what really happened to Capt. Walden in the heat of battle.
Is it any good?
On the positive side, this sturdy drama has no obvious political agenda, which is refreshing for a Hollywood film. Nonetheless, there's a mildly by-the-numbers feel, kind of like a deluxe JAG or NCIS episode, as Serling bravely digs for the truth, no matter what. He's so idealized that even his flaws of heavy drinking and a possible "friendly fire" tragedy barely tarnish his halo.
In an interesting gambit, probably from the much-imitated Japanese drama Rashomon, we see Capt. Walden in different POVs, from a John Wayne-level roughneck to a terrified girl in over her head. The different viewpoints could spark an interesting discussion about women's roles in the military.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the decisions the characters make. What would viewers have done in Serling's place? What about the pinned-down, panicked soldiers?
The concept of women in the American Armed Forces is still fairly new and took a long time to become instituted. Ask young viewers if they consider female soldiers to be a touchy issue or not.
Inform viewers too young to remember about "Operation Desert Storm" and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Could what is shown in Courage Under Fire have taken place in other wars? Why or why not?
- In theaters: July 14, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: December 26, 2000
- Cast: Denzel Washington, Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon, Meg Ryan
- Director: Edward Zwick
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: war violence and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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