A Soldier's Story (1984)
January 17, 2015 2:39 AM - Subscribe

An African American officer investigates a murder in a racially charged situation in World War II.

Based on Charles Fuller's Pulitzer-winning play, which was loosely based on Billy Budd. The movie kept much of the production's original cast (1981 NYT review), a notable exception being Samuel L. Jackson (a still from the play with an incredibly young-looking Jackson).

Has quite the IMDb trivia page: It was shot in Arkansas and then-Governor Bill Clinton visited the set. Despite what the audio commentary says, it was not the first movie shot in the state, and not even the first of them to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Adolph Caesar was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (against a helluva line up).

Director Norman Jewison said of Denzel Washington: "The camera loved [Washington], he was intelligent, rebellious, totally confident, and spectacularly talented. He was so confident he often thought he knew more than the director, but he watched and learned. He never believed the film was going to work until after he saw it finished. He didn't stop being above it all until he saw the film with an audience and realized it worked." They later worked together on The Hurricane.

Ebert did not like it: "The problem is in the time structure. If an investigation begins at the present moment and proceeds, suspense can build. But if the truth is going to emerge from a series of flashbacks, then obviously the movie knows who did it, and is withholding the information from us, using it as a hook to get us to sit through all of its other points."

The largely-improvised score was composed by Herbie Hancock. The film features musical performances by Patti LaBelle and Larry Riley.

Recently featured on the podcast Denzel Washington is Greatest Actor of All Time Period, which was followed by an interview with cast member David Alan Grier about the making-of which features the greatest 'Samuel L. Jackson watching Family Feud' story you'll ever hear.

There's a couple of uploads on YouTube.
posted by Gin and Broadband (1 comment total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unlike Ebert, I really enjoyed it and had no problem with the structure - sure, it's stagey, but it is based on a play, and the flashbacks are no more egregious than (say) an episode of CSI. Howard E. Rollins Jr is the putative lead but he doesn't get a heck of a lot to do (other than wear the hell out of the uniform), however Caesar is spectacular and the rest of the cast works wonderfully together.

Dagnabbit, while finding that image of Rollins I found a great blog post which belonged in the FPP: Let's Reappraise A Soldier's Story.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:47 AM on January 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

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