Tuesday, November 17, 2009

1984 - A Soldier's Story

As I write this, the sun is almost below the horizon and it's only a quarter past four in the afternoon. Having lived my whole life, save the last six months, in Sydney, I'm used to daylight until at least well after five, even in the dead of winter. Here in New York City, however, I'm beginning to think, come January, it'll be dark by noon. I've never quite understood why Daylight Savings time isn't simply employed the whole year round. I mean, if it's okay to screw around with the time zones for the summer, why not for the rest of the year as well? In fact, why don't we just adjust the time zones themselves? Then we could dispense with Daylight Savings altogether... One day, I'll change the world.

Just before the city was drawn into darkness, I viewed the final entry in the 1984 Best Picture race...

A Soldier's Story
Norman Jewison
Charles Fuller
(based on his play "A Soldier's Play")
Howard Rollins, Jr., Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, David Alan Grier, Denzel Washington
Academy Awards:
3 nominations
0 wins

Louisiana, 1944. A black sergeant has been killed and black army lawyer Capt. Davenport is sent to uncover the truth. Being the first black officer that most of the white soldiers have ever encountered, Davenport is a little less than welcome, given only three days to bring the murderer to justice. As he interviews the victim's troops, a picture is painted of an unpopular and despicable man with a long list of enemies. But Davenport's job is made all the more difficult by the lack of cooperation from the local chain of command.

A Soldier's Story is a somewhat formulaic film that almost seems more suitable for television. It has a very episodic nature about it. Think JAG. There are suspects and motives and the pertinent information is revealed gradually until the murder is solved. Now that I think about it, though, I'm not quite sure why that style of storytelling should be exclusive to the broadcast industry. Perhaps it's simply because that's what we're accustomed to.

On the other hand, I highly regard A Few Good Men, which is built with a similar structure. So, I guess it's more to do with how cleverly that whodunit formula is employed. A Soldier's Story just seemed a tad straightforward. Which is not to say it is predictable or badly written. I don't claim to have known from the beginning who the culprit was nor do I think it was a boring film. I suppose it just didn't grab me in the same way that other films of the genre have.

Just like the other Best Picture nominees from 1984, this film is heavily steeped in gravely important themes. The racial tensions are certainly well depicted, despite the pat ending. It definitely holds its own amongst its competition as far as that is concerned.

Denzel Washington (pictured) is fiercely impressive in his first major screen role as one of the Privates with a personal vendetta against his Sergeant. Adolph Caesar, who portrays the murdered man in various flashbacks, is perhaps playing a caricature, but it may just seem like that because of his cartoon-sounding voice. And Howard Rollins, Jr. is powerful as the attorney with an uphill battle. On the whole, not a standout film, in my opinion, but a worthy contender, nonetheless.

So, that concludes the nominees from 1984. Next up is the verdict...

1 comment:

  1. Norman Jewison takes another look at racism 17 years after his award-winning "In the Heat of the Night" - this time it's racism from within as well as from the outside. Adapted from the stage play, Jewison opens it up somewhat and captures the look and feel of its time and setting quite well. It is quite talky and stagy at times, but nonetheless gripping. The acting is very good. It may have been interesting to see what a Sidney Poitier may have done with the Captain Davinport role if the film had been made 10 years earlier, or for that matter, if Denzel Washington played it ten years later. Howard Rollins Jr. was nobly captured by the camera, but I felt his part could have stood more passion.

    My feeling for "A Soldier's Story" pretty well that of "A Few Good Men" - very entertaining movies that fall just short of Best Picture caliber.