This occasionally preachy but mostly intense, intelligent and captivating racially provocative drama was adapted for the screen by Charles Fuller from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The turbulent setting -- a Southern military base during World War II -- and the murder mystery at the center of the plot allow the film to explore the issue of racism in unexpectedly complex manner. Director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) is right at home with this sort of material, and evokes a series of excellent performances from his largely unknown cast. Most of the Negro Ensemble Company cast that appeared in the original stage production reprise their roles in A Soldier's Story. Making notable appearances are future stars like Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend and David Alan Grier, but the film really belongs to Adolph Caesar, whose performance as a tyrannical, vicious and masochistic army sergeant resulted in a deserved Academy Award best supporting actor nomination. Inspired by Herman Melville's Billy Budd, the film is more about character study and self-examination than whodunit. Howard Rollins Jr., who leads the investigation into the murder, is a sympathetic figure, but a bit too unfocused to stay in our memories when compared with the superbly defined performance of Caesar, who appropriately enough gets the film's last words. The score by Herbie Hancock and bluesy musical support of Patti LaBelle also contribute well to the film's atmosphere. A Soldier's Story was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Caesar) and Adapted Screenplay (Fuller).
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Inspired by the Herman Melville novel Billy Budd, writer Charles Fuller created the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier's Play, which he then adapted into this film drama in 1984, for socially conscious, liberal director Norman Jewison. In the racially-divided 1940s, Fort Neal, Louisiana, is a military base where black soldiers are sent not to fight in WWII but to play baseball against other armed forces teams. The murder of a black sergeant, Waters (Adolph Caesar) brings an investigator, Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) to the base. Davenport, the first black officer that most of the men have ever met, suspects that a pair of white men were responsible for Waters' death, but his probe reveals that nearly everyone, regardless of skin color, had ample reason to kill the loathsome but pitiable Waters. The cast of A Soldier's Story features early supporting performances from several African-American actors who would go on to greater prominence, including Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, and Robert Townsend. The film was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Caesar) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
All Movie Guide - Dan Jardine
|Presentation:||[Full Frame, Wide Screen]|
|Sound:||[Dolby Digital Surround]|