A Soldier's Story - A Soldier's Story(Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2020]Sitting somewhere between a US army race-led period drama & a murder mystery, A Soldier's Story is a well made & well-acted early 1980ís film. Sadly it seemingly slipped between the gaps of the other military dramas of the decade, which is a pity as itís both thought-provoking & very well realized. Here from Powerhouse is a recent welcome Blu Ray release of the film- featuring a new 2k restoration of the film, and a selection of archive material.
Appearing in 1984 A Soldierís Story was directed by highly respected Canadian born director Norman Jewison- who has an impressive forty-four credits to his name. His output moves between the Steve McQueen led poker drama 1965ís The Cincinnati Kid, onto 1973ís film adaptation of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, through to 1975ís brutal & gritty Sci-fi picture Rollerball, onto New York set & Cher fronted comedy romance of 1987ís Moonstruck- so heís certainly a very versatile director. The film's screenplay is by Charles Fuller, who wrote the play it was based on- but thankful, while itís expectedly script heavy- the whole thing remains largely cinematic.
The film takes place in 1944- the last year of WWII- set in a military base in the deep south. One late night on his way back to base Sergeant Vernon Waters(Adolph Caesar), an African American man, is shot to dead- initially itís believed he was gunned down by the Ku Klux Klan. African American former lawyer Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins Jr) is sent down from Washington to investigate the shooting. From the outset, itís clear there is a lot of racial tension on the base- with the white officers distrusting & belittling him, and the African American soldiers look up to him, as Davenport is the first African American officer theyíve seen.
The film, like many murder mysteries, is largely told in flashback as Captain Davenport interviews various members of the base- but this is all done in a clear & flowing manner. Thought-out A Soldierís Story we get a nice balance of drama, racial friction, and mystery- though if I would criticize one thing the resolve/ ending did feel somewhat flat & low-key.
Casting wise the selection of actors is stellar, with the mainly black cast featuring some truly great African American actors- we, of course, have Rollins Jr as the investigating outsider, who mangers the balance between authoritarian-yet- caring well. Caesar is great as the embittered & dis-liked murder Sergeant. The supporting cast features the likes of Denzel Washington, Art Evans, David Alan Grier, and David Harris- and each of these adds their great acting chops to the films unfold. Itís scored by Herbie Hancock, and he offers up a good mix of blues-tinged instrumental funk, more moody jazzy numbers, and edgy atmospheric fare.
Moving onto this region B Blu Ray- and the new 2k restoration is marvellously crisp & clear- wonderfully picking up the clearly sweltering hot deep south location very well. There are no new extras on the disc itís self- but we do get some good archival content, taking in a 1999 commentary track from director Norman Jewison. A 2010 nearing 70-minute audio interview with the director discussing his whole career, and March to Freedom Ė a fifteen-minute 1999 doc about African American soldiers during WWII. The finished release comes with a thirty-six-page booklet taking in new writings about the film, extracts from Norman Jewisonís autobiography recounting the making of A Soldierís Story & more.
If you enjoy either well-acted racial dramas, or intriguing enough period set murder mystery then Iíd say A Soldier's Story will be for you- once again itís great to see Powerhouse uncovering another largely forgotten, but very well made 1980ís film.Roger Batty