Independence Day Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and Will Smith. Courage Under Fire Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan.

A subplot about a Washington Post reporter (played by Scott Glenn with refreshing briskness and sympathy) exists first to pressure Serling, then to clear him of any wrongdoing -- it's as if Zwick thought we'd be too bummed out otherwise. In general, this director has a propensity for psychological "closure" that blinds him to other imperatives of a story. The way Zwick does the movie, it comes down to a homiletic message: The truth shall set you free. The view of reality he presents is too soft at the core to accept as truth -- Serling sees Walden's (and his own) case whole, then goes home. And the drama is too centered on this soldier's personal justice to offer proper debate of the political issues it raises. Serling may declare to his superior that the dead can't be honored until the unvarnished tale is told, but the facts, as far as we know, remain hidden.

I did respond to Serling's urge to complete his investigation because he wanted to take an assignment and for once "get something right." Getting something right after a lifetime of errors is a rich theme for American artists, since they operate in a country that pretends people can get things right the first time. (It's a central theme of the greatest American movie, The Wild Bunch.) Courage Under Fire left me irritated and unsatisfied, but it did lead me to feel that, sometime soon, Zwick just might get a movie right.

Independence Day screens daily at area theaters. Courage Under Fire opens Friday, July 12, at area theaters.

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