After making “In the Heat of the Night” in the second half of the 1960s, his probably best film, a crime drama about a black detective coming to investigate a murder in the segregated South America, Norman Jewison also made a film about another black detective in the mid-1980s. task in South America. Charles Fuller himself rewrote his Pullitzer-winning 1982 novel, A Soldier’s Play, into a screenplay, a story about racism in a segregated military detachment at a camp in Louisiana during World War II. Most major studios did not want to make this film and in the end only Columbia approved the minimum budget because it was assumed that no one would be interested in a film about the Black Division in World War II. The film, which takes place entirely on American soil, is not a war spectacle, but a thriller that deals with segregation, racism and injustice in South America.
The story begins when someone kills a drunken black sergeant Vernon Waters (Adolph Caesar) after a night out of base, and Captain Richard Davenport, who also played Detective Virgil Tibbs in a later television show, is sent from Washington to investigate the case. a series based on the film “In the Heat of the Night”). To everyone’s surprise, the captain is black, and the vast majority of black soldiers who are completely separated from their white counterparts at the base see a black man for the first time in their lives. In addition, Davenport is a lawyer, an educated young soldier from the north who, despite being of the same race as other black soldiers who initially see him as a hero, still has a different background and for him the south is a complete unknown.
Of course, the first candidate for the assassination of a black sergeant is the local Ku Klux Klan, and the military leadership obviously expects the case to be resolved quickly and that nothing special will happen after the death of a black man. But Captain Davenport will take the job seriously and decide to drive the mission to the end. Narratively, Fuller and Jewison set the plot non-linearly, and as we follow the investigation in flashbacks, we go back in time and learn a little, not only about the circumstances of the sergeant’s murder, but also about what happened at the base. A similar structure was later apparently picked up by thematically similar films such as the much more famous “Few Good Men” with maestro Jack Nicholson, and the unfolding of events here is rather unexpected.
Through conversations with soldiers (among them one played by the young Denzel Washigton for whom this was one of the first roles) we will not only find out what was going on and why someone killed the sergeant, but also who he was. We are slowly realizing not only the relationship between blacks and whites at the base, but also the differences in opinions and attitudes between black soldiers. Even though “A Soldier’s Story” is undoubtedly a quality and interesting film, this crime drama / thriller is not even close to the important and groundbreaking path of the previously mentioned Jewison’s classic. Anyway, “The Soldier’s Story” eventually reached three Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and supporting male role for Caesar. Rating 8/10.
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