Just before the city was drawn into darkness, I viewed the final entry in the 1984 Best Picture race...
A Soldier's Story
(based on his play "A Soldier's Play")
Howard Rollins, Jr., Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, David Alan Grier, Denzel Washington
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...