on December 30, 2000
A phenomenal cast brings Charles Fuller's adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play to the big screen. Howard E. Rollins, Jr., is magnetic as the Army Captain sent to investigate the murder of a black Sergeant in Louisiana during World War II; his careful detective work uncovers the complex layers of racism (both externalized and internalized) that led up to the crime. Adolph Caesar gives a superb, Oscar-nominated performance as the (unsympathetic) victim whose story is told through a series of flashbacks. And Larry Riley, David Alan Grier, Robert Townsend, and the always-magnificent Denzel Washington register strongly in important supporting roles. Effective as both a mystery and a social commentary, this worthy nominee for the 1984 Best Picture Oscar is tightly directed by Norman Jewison.
The DVD presentation of this recent screen classic offers an excellent film-to-video transfer, featuring a sharp picture and crisp sound. The disc contains both the widescreen and fullscreen editions, and includes the original theatrical trailer. Also offered is a short but very moving 1999 documentary entitled "March to Freedom", which recounts several astonishing real-life stories of racism in the American armed forces during World War II. All-in-all, this is a highly recommended DVD that deserves a place in your home video library.
on May 21, 2006
A Soldier's Story simply has everything working for it, and the result is a frequently overlooked masterpiece that will add depth to any collection of American film. It works as a murder mystery and it works as an astounding inside look into cultural psychology. Certainly the themes of racism - and self-hatred - are universal. But this snapshot of southern race relations in 1944, seen in a military context, is also very specific, and more powerful still because of this specificity.
That these able-bodied men are not in Europe says a great deal, that they are baseball players from the Negro League tells us that even the national pastime was not truly national in 1944. When Captain Davenport, played with spellbinding dignity and power by Howard Rollins, arrives to investigate the murder of a hated drill instructor, he is the first black officer most of the men have ever encountered. Capt. Davenport's seriousness and dedication drive a wedge into the status quo, revealing layers of racism in white and black soldiers alike.
One of this movie's rewards is getting to watch familiar actors just starting their ascent, Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle), and David Alan Grier to name a few. Even Philly's own chanteuse, Patti LaBelle, lends some characteristically high notes. But the star of this film is Sergeant Waters, the murdered drill instructor, played with smoldering intensity and conviction by Adolph Caesar. Hard to believe he did not receive an Oscar, after being nominated.
In Sgt. Waters, Caesar creates a man of multi-layered psychological complexity, whose hatred of blacks is more vicious than any white man's ever could be, whose assimilation of white culture is more desperate than any white man's ever is. Sgt. Waters believes himself to be a transformational man, a black who has put the embarrassing shuck-and-jive eye rolling behind him, a man who must kill his own blackness to be free. In doing so, he is responsible for the death of the film's most thoroughly innocent and likable character, C.J. Memphis, played admirably by Larry Riley.
By baiting Memphis, Sgt. Waters severs not only his ties to his true self, but to his humanity, in an attempt to further his crackpot philosophy. At this point he is more than doomed, he is damned. A Soldier's Story is not only a masterpiece of craftsmanship, it is a deeply truthful and humanistic story. Engrossing, but more than mere entertainment - art.
on March 12, 2001
"A Soldier's Story" is a truly compelling film that gives the viewer a lot to think about. While this film explores the issue of racism and intra-racial prejudice, it does so without being overwhelming or preachy.
Howard Rollins gives a solid performance in the role of Captain Davenport; a stoic and principled officer who is assigned to solve the murder of a black NCO--Sgt. Vernon Waters--at a military base outside of Tynin, Louisiana. Davenport is determined to solve this murder and he's not going to let the white racist senior officers stand in his way. At the same time, he doesn't let the enlisted black soldiers suck-up to him because he's on a mission and he wants to get at the truth, no matter what.
Adolph Caesar plays the hard-ass, irascible Sgt. Waters. Caesar plays this role for all it's worth and he does a great job of making the viewer feel his contempt for southern blacks and for himself.
Robert Townsend adds a bit of comic relief to this tense drama in his role of the bumbling sycophant Coporal Ellis. For all the fawning attention he gives to Captain Davenport, you, the viewer, can understand and feel Ellis' sense of pride in working with a black officer.
Denzel Washington also gives a convincing performance in the role of Private Peterson. Peterson is the angry young black man who not only resents the white racist society in which he lives but also the blacks who try to keep other black people down. This inner rage is played out in a very tense verbal exchange between Peterson and Waters which ultimately culminates in a fight between the two men.
The only weakness this movie has is its reliance of the flashback throughout the film. At times, this technique comes across as a bit awkward but given the context of the film, this technique is appropriate.
Despite this minor criticism, I'd have to say that this is a first-rate film and I highly recommend it.
on November 26, 2003
I think the first time I saw this movie, was an edited TV version. I usually don't watch TV because I'm annoyed by commercial interruptions. But, this film captured my interest because of how well it played out as flashbacks being put together to come to a conclusion about a murder. This is a suspenseful story with an unexpected conclusion.
Tynin, Louisiana 1944. A black non-commissioned officer was murdered. Shot to death on a roadside near a bridge, outside of a predominately black army base with only white officers. A black army officer lawyer (Howard Rollins, Jr.) comes from Washington D.C. to Louisiana to investigate the murder. No one has ever seen a black officer before and white officers only heard of the possibility that a black man could be an officer. As you can imagine, this black officer doesn't get much support from the white officers on the base.
This is a powerful film of perseverance, courage, determination, pride, and accomplishment against overwhelming odds. And the cast is fabulous. Howard Rollins, Jr. Adolph Caesar, David Alan Grier, Denzel Washington, Art Evans, David Harris, Larry Riley (as C.J. Memphis), Wings Hauser, and many other stars you know you've seen before. And it even includes Patti Labelle as Big Mary belting out some fabulous Southern Rockin' Blues.
This is my very favorite film that has Denzel Washington, although "Mississippi Masala" is a close second.
on March 3, 2000
Unerated and only now available on DVD, this is a classic period piece. Totally overlooked are two musical performances by Patti Labelle, who is forced to sing in the period of 40's music... outdoes Aretha! What a shame the soundtrack is undeveloped and unavailable..Labelle never got that the constraint of such music results in a more powerful performance than in most of her subsequent work. Listen for yourselves and enjoy a finely crafted mystery, as well
on August 15, 1999
This is one of the best murder mystery movies in years. It is superbly acted and directed. It appeals to all ages and the base depiction and military politics are all wonderful. Why is it that this movie is unavailable at most major video rental outlets??? Amazes me...
on April 30, 2012
Incorporating themes of military racism, Jim Crow ideology, and black self hatred, "A Soldier's Story" is a 1984 film adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller. The film is Fuller's account of the daily military life of black WWII soldiers who are apart of an all black regiment at a Louisiana military base. The movie's plot is centered around the murder of a black sergeant---"A Sergeant Waters" (Adolphus Ceasar) and the investigation of his death by a black military officer sent from Washington D.C, Captain Richard Davenport. (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) . While the term democracy is open to several possible meanings, the ideas of enfranchisement and equality are two important postulations that typically are associated with at least, American democracy. However, this movie argues that America was neither united nor democratic and exudes inter-racial and intra-racial tensions of the South in the 1940's.
on December 11, 2012
Sgt. Waters, as played by Adolph Caeser, is almost everyone. We all deal with competition and rejection. Hatred of ourselves is another, deep unsolved problem that needs to be treated with kindness and compassion. Peterson, as played by Denzel Washington, is a younger version of Waters. And people like CJ Memphis is a threat to their self-confidence, as CJ is happy with himself and compassionate, and caring(aware)of others. Howard Rollins as the investigating officer was very sensitive and confident in his undercovering the "truth" of what happened to Sgt. Waters. Actually, all actors were excellent in their roles. Jewison's direction was sensitive and tough as the situation arose.
Caesar's performance should have garnered him an Academy Award win. Washington should have received a Golden Globe nomination. The same with Larry Riley(CJ Memphis). Art Evans was great as Wilkey. As my title says, everyone IS A SOLDIER'S STORY. Color is immaterial.
on April 10, 2011
Adolph Caesar, an inadvertently appropriate name for the lead actor in "A Soldier's Story," deservedly won the Academy Award for supporting actor for his contribution to this telling drama. Sergeant Waters has been shot dead and Washington DC has sent a black attorney, poorly played by Howard Rollins (the only poor part of the film), to investigate the case. Rollins' forced and contrived portrayal made me yearn for Sidney Poitier, who would have been perfect for the role. The plot has the attorney question the black platoon of baseball players, of which Waters had been in charge, in an effort to discoverer Waters' murderer. Blacks were not allowed to fight side by side with whites until later on in World War II, as the film clearly depicts.
Waters was a man looking to improve the quality of his black race, and part of his plan was to eliminate the uneducated southern Negro, whom he regarded as an embarrassment for black people. Like the man with the masterplan in Germany, Waters schemes, on a much smaller level, to rid the ballplayers of their best athlete - guitar picking, story-telling, likeable, ignorant C. J.
Denzel Washington plays a key role in the movie, and does it convincingly. He is an intelligent member under Waters' charge, who defies Waters' behavior and openly challenges it.
The movie provides much sadness regarding the ignorance of all people whether black or white, and additional sadness regarding how some people believe they have the right to control human destiny at any cost whether it is the slaughter of ten million people or the taking of a single life. But a glimmer of hope for the human condition is provided at the end when the white captain and black captain ride together as equals in front fo the white southern battalion, blacks incorporated, as they prepare to go to war.
This is a movie I will watch again, more than once. And I will recommend it to my grandchildren when they are a bit older as a must see.
on April 3, 2016
Don't let the 4 stars dissuade you for a second. The lead actors led by Adolph Caesar and Howard Rollins carry this movie as does the stage play this is based on (written by Charles Fuller). And don't let the prospect of a "stagey" play deter you either. A SOLDIER'S STORY moves quickly and there are plenty of "outside" shouts to avoid that claustrophobic, one-dimensional, stage feeling.
Like so many other reviewers agree this is very well done with "negro soldiers" just dying for a chance to prove their worth and "kill some nazis." But, that is not the focal point of this movie.
The different levels of racism presented in this movie is well presented and received. Again, Adolph Caesar (as Sargent) is so good at being despised; and, yet, his reasoning - that is beyond typical racism - takes him back to a personal, catastrophic and psychological experience from WWI. His obsession is almost like something out of a horror movie. When the Sargent explains "And he had the nerve to ask what he'd done wrong..." Again, pretty much chilling (and so obviously sad) in its duplicitous form of racism.
Check this one out. The murder mystery will have you guessing too.
And look closely and see Sam L. Jackson in small roll (very skinny) celebrating the "expansion" of the war. Lotsa' "other" faces in this one too, besides Denzel, you will also see one of "The Warriors" (Walter Hill's gang opus) as a soldier; and the "Psycho Pimp" from the 80's violent, cable cult movie hit Vice Squad. Not surprisingly his character is a suspect in the murder.
Knocked off 1/2 a star for a couple actors appearing to be "trying" to act very dramatically.
The short documentary on some black soldiers who did (or did not) receive respects for their duties during WWll is also worth watching.