Friday, May 8, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: A Soldier's Story

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to welcome you to Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society, meetings on the second Friday of each month.  Last week, society members posted three clues as to their chosen film for the month.  Today is the big reveal.  A reminder on my clues:

- The director has directed over 20 movies from a variety of genres.  Perhaps his most enduring films are a couple of musicals from the early 1970s.  This, however, is not a musical from the early '70s.

- One of the actors was in the midst of a career transition from television to film.  While he wasn't quite there yet, in a few years, he would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  He wouldn't work with the director again until 14 years later.  But when he did, he was nominated for an Oscar.

- The film's score composer is a jazz titan.  After dropping out of a fine liberal arts college in rural Iowa, he caught on with the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s.  Over time, he became one of the world's premier electronic jazz musicians.

Drum roll, please...

Title: A Soldier's Story
Director: Norman Jewison
Original Release: 1984
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Like many beautifully written movies, A Soldier's Story is based on a play: the Pulitzer-winning A Soldier's Play by Charles Fuller.  In 1944, Captain Richard Davenport (Howard E. Rollins), a JAG lawyer, is sent to investigate the murder of an African American sergeant on a segregated, Deep South army base.  Davenport himself is the first black officer most of the soldiers have ever seen.  The initial assumption is that the sarge (Adolph Caesar) was killed by the Klan but, of course, the truth proves more complicated. 

The story gets right to the heart of the racial dynamics of late-War America.  Expectations are high for civil rights prospects after the War but opinions diverge on how to achieve it, indeed even on what it means to be a black man.  In the platoon, being on the wrong side of the issue meant being on the wrong side of the sarge and the potential price was high. 

The writing is fantastic.  The film is fraught with tension filled confrontation, often turning violent.  Yet the most chilling scene finds the sarge staring at himself in a bar room mirror, telling tales of his World War I service.

Regarding the clues, several of you correctly guessed the composer, Herbie Hancock.  And yes, he did drop out of Grinnell on his way to jazz greatness.  Naturally, the school gave him an honorary degree years later anyway.  My clue for the director was admittedly vague but I had hopes some might figure it out once they guessed the actor.  Denzel Washington played a small role by his standards but a crucial one.  In 1984, he still had four years to go on St. Elsewhere but the big screen accolades would come soon.  His first Oscar nomination, for Cry Freedom, would come in 1987.  His first win, for Glory, came in '89.

By request, we shall do the trivia teaser again for June.  Choose your own movie.  Post three clues the week before: Friday, June 5th.  The next regular meeting is Friday, June 12th.  I'll post the sign up list tomorrow.  In the meantime, please visit this month's participants:


  1. I think I've seen this, but I'm not remembering it. I think I should make it a point to watch it again.

  2. Crappola! I was thinking Norman Jewison since he did Fiddler On The Roof but I could not get the film star. I had forgotten Denzel Waskington was in this film. Great review of film that should be more known. I have seen it but many years ago

    1. It's hard now to think of Denzel Washington as ever having been on TV. Others who've made the switch come to mind more quickly: Clooney, Robin Williams, Mike Myers, etc.

  3. I never saw his movie but it looks like a fascinating insight into the time period and racial dynamics of the time. I'll look for it and it's a great surprise.

    1. I hope you'll watch it. I'd love to know what you think.

  4. I must look this one up.
    I remember when this movie came out but for some reason I never saw it.
    A terrific review.

    cheers, parsnip

  5. Great reveal and review. I saw this movie a long time ago and only remember bits and pieces. I remember the basics and the overall meaning of it all. I don't know if I can bring myself to watch it again. I agree some movies should be watched just because they should, but I'm not one to watch them over and over. Great choice. Looking forward to next month.

    1. The writing and the acting are both so strong. It definitely holds up to rewatches for me.