Ryan and I would like to once again welcome you to another review for our Argumentative August Blogathon.
This next film, A Soldier’s Story (1984) is being reviewed by SG of Rhyme and Reason
Let’s see what SG thought of this movie….
A Soldier’s Story (1984)
Sergeant Waters now is dead.
Just how we do not know,
But any could have laid him low
Since grudges marked him as a foe.
Hear what all his men have said,
And judge what truth is there,
But judges very rarely share
Their beliefs on what is fair.
Rating: PG (ought to be PG-13, due to language)
Directed by Norman Jewison, who previously addressed themes of racism in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, A Soldier’s Story plays out on and near a Louisiana army base in 1944, one of those based-on-a-play films that broadens its setting without losing sight of its theatrical roots. Expertly acted and directed, it serves as an early venue for several strong African-American actors, such as Denzel Washington, Art Evans (the air traffic controller in Die Hard 2), and David Alan Grier (Carl in Jumanji).
The film starts out with Patti LaBelle belting out “I pour so much whisky, I make you stagger home in your sleep,” while Sergeant Vernon Waters (Oscar-nominated Adolph Caesar) does exactly that, stumbling back to base. In true murder mystery style, we only learn the time and place and his final words before a faceless gunshot leaves him dead. Enter Howard E. Rollins, Jr., as Captain Davenport, the investigator sent from Washington to find the truth after an initial inquiry accomplished nothing. His status as a black officer puzzles the white men and encourages the black men, yet he remains entirely stoic and self-confident, like Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night, demanding respect by his very professionalism. He won’t play ball with the white bosses or indulge in the “one-of-us” mentality of “his people.” He’s there to find the truth, and as he questions everyone in turn, he serves as a counterpoint to the truth he reveals.
This isn’t really a courtroom drama since there’s no courtroom or jury, but there are quite a few judges. As the story unfolds in flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, we see that Sgt. Waters was far from the most popular man on the base, complicating matters for Davenport. After all, the only thing worse than a cold case with no leads is a case with a despised victim where anyone is a suspect. Was it a white man yielding to his own racism? Was it one of Waters’ own men out for revenge? Was there a cover-up and, if so, who did the covering up? Like any good mystery, the answers are not what they at first appear.
As I mentioned before, there are two key viewpoints, which never engage in actual debate but still clash throughout the film. While there’s no argument about the racism of the white people around the base, the ideological struggle hinges on how people like Davenport and Waters try to elevate African-Americans as soldiers and as a race. While some want only to tear down others to favor their own comparison, some prefer to lead by example. This conflict is subtly weaved into the main mystery, and by the end, the truth and the victor are both clear.
Best line: (Cpl. Ellis, after Davenport’s meeting with the Colonel) “You don’t want to unpack, sir, freshen up a bit? It didn’t go too good in there?” (Capt. Davenport) “You got a hearing problem, Corporal?” (Ellis, rushing) “No, sir, my ears are real big, sir. I was born with big ears!”
© 2015 S. G. Liput