Movie Review: A Soldier’s Story. Or, in the Heat of the Day.

It’s hard not to compare it to Heat of the Night, which I would do, if I’d seen it, but I haven’t. And I will, eventually, and then I can compare them, but from what I know of Heat of the Night (same director) it’s about a corruption case and an outsider who happens to be black comes in to work on the case and is not necessarily warmly received. That’s pretty much the story here, a sergeant is killed and a captain who is a lawyer is sent in from Washington DC to investigate. And, Howard E. Rollins, who plays the lawyer who comes in to solve it, played the part of the detective from the big city in the TV show of Heat of the Night. And, heat literally plays a role in the film. Everyone is always sweating. There are always fans on. People’s backs are wet, faces are drenched. So there are some similarities there. Interesting, I guess, that Spike Lee pulls heat into Do the Right Thing – the dripping heat of the film makes a nice metaphor for the south, which works in those two films, and Lee uses it in Do the Right Thing to show it’s the same in New York. Heat is the embodiment of the tension between the races, etc. It work as a theme.

This is one of those films that looks and sounds like a TV movie except for some language and violence. The music is dated – Herbie Hancock, of “Rock It” fame (like that video, except without the cool robots, and the drum bits. So the synth bits. That sound good if you were rocking to them in the 80s as you drove around with those sunglasses on that are now strangely back in style) put his hand to it and it doesn’t hold up well with time. The shots look like TV movies shots. There’s a nice scene where the soldiers are in church and swaying and there’s a shot from above and behind, and all the soldiers are swaying just a little bit but not too much, it’s a nice moment. But that’s it, film-wise. Some of the interpersonal scenes, probably the scenes that worked in the play, work pretty well. The watershed scene that tells us what happened before it actually tells us (that nice moment that crosses off the last suspect and lets you figure it out and gives you time to pat yourself on the back before the reveal) is done well and feels solid, but the final confrontation was disappointing and the resolution switches tone pretty awkwardly given what just happened, like it’s getting ready for commercials or something. Apparently it’s based on a Pulitzer-prize winning play. It was nominated for some academy awards (actor, for Adolph Ceasar, the sargeant over the unit, picture, and adapted screenplay). It didn’t win any, but won an Edgar Allen Poe award (a raven?), a Moscow Film Festival Award (Mother Russia TAKES awards!) and the LA critic’s award (a nod from someone wearing a sweater). All of which surprise me, because it’s okay, but it’s not amazing. Adolph Ceasar’s performance is solid, mostly, you believe that the character might exist, but for me it was a little over the top. He looks like a good actor who was not restrained well. Maybe it was a timing thing. In terms of films about African-American soldiers, I would say Glory is head and shoulders above it.

Oh let’s get serious, I’d like to like it but it’s a bunch of meh. You’re better off watching a good episode of Law and Order. Maybe this one.

The director, Norman Jewison, has directed a ton, including Moonstruck, the original Thomas Crown Affair, Fiddler on the Roof, and as mentioned, Heat of the Night. So this goes to show it does not matter what you have made before, no one’s record is perfect. NO ONE. Except Christopher Nolan, apparently. But I can’t really recommend it. I don’t want to poke at it too much either because it’s taking on racism within the military, and in a whole-hearted way which is admirable. I can’t recommend Heat of the Night instead, because I have yet to see it, but I will, and then I will not feel that I have to work out my guilt about not seeing it out publicly. And that will be better for everyone. But Glory, if you haven’t seen it, really amazing, despite Matthew Brodericks’ facial hair in the poster.

A Soldier’s Story – 1984. Rated PG, surprisingly, there is vulgarity, some violence, and a few F-bombs. Probably PG-13 or R today.

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