A Soldier’s Story (1984) Review

28 03 2011

Copyright 1984 Columbia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 film directed by Norman Jewison.  It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Off-Broadway play A Soldier’s Play by Charles Fuller.

The film centers around the murder investigation concerning an African-American sergeant on a military barracks in Louisiana near the end of World War II.  The victim, Sergeant Waters, is played by Adolph Caesar in an Academy Award nominated role.  He is a found on the side of the road with two .45 caliber bullets in his chest and there is a lot of turmoil over the case due to concern over a race war if it’s found that a white officer had murdered Waters.  To investigate, the army sends a Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins) from Washington, D.C.  Davenport, who is a trained lawyer and the first black officer many people at the barracks have ever encountered, presses through racism, deceit and conflicting stories to try to get to the bottom of what happened to Waters.  It is found through multiple interviews that Waters was not that good of a person in general and one who seemed to have many issues concerning his feelings towards both white and black people.  The story unfolds to find a much deeper than originally expected motive in the case concerning Waters’s murder.

Jewison, as a director, is well suited for a script of this nature.  Prior to this film, he had directed films such as In the Heat of the Night and …And Justice for All, both of which make strong statements towards equality and justice.  His handling of delicate issues is always done with a certain air of dignity which really works well for this type of film.  The script is obviously based on a stage play, as the structure is very much limited to certain locations and the majority of the narrative is based around the series of interviews that Davenport conducts.  However, though the structure of the story is confined somewhat to its stage beginnings, the execution of the film helps show more than tell some of the interview sequences and keep the viewer interested in what is happening.

The majority of the film’s actors are African-American and all of them do wonderful jobs in their respective roles.  Early appearances of celebrities such as Denzel Washington and David Alan Grier are made throughout the film.  Caesar, who plays Waters, as earlier mentioned was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this film for which I guess I found deserving.  There was nothing spectacular to me about his performance aside from a few select scenes, but all in all it was a solid portrayal of the character.  In my opinion, however, if anyone from the film deserved a nomination, it would be Denzel Washington as Private First Class Peterson.  I felt like every second of his time on screen was entrancing and it’s no wonder from this early role that he developed into such a wonderful, well-respected actor.

I would definitely recommend this film to anyone.  It’s one of those films from the 1980s that seems to kind of evaporated a bit over time as far as public knowledge, but who’s story and performances make it a definite must see for anyone who enjoys films with justice and equality as a strong thematic motivator.


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