A Review of the film “We Were Soldiers” (From the book We Were Soldiers Once….and Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joe Galloway)

We Were Soldiers, the latest in the growing war film trend, is based on the true story of the Americans first encounter with the North Vietnamese in the la Drang Valley. On November 14, 1965, Lt. Col. Harold Moore lead the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry (the same unit number as Custer) straight to an area known as the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” 400 men versus 2000 enemy soldiers.

 

Reviewed by Jen Johnston

Some of my fondest memories of childhood come from watching videos with my Dad. Around the age of twelve, my Mom embarked on a brief real estate agent stint, and when she would work night shifts, Dad and I would watch a video of his choice, and we would eat those fried chicken TV dinners, (currently responsible for 90% of the worlds cholesterol problems to date.) The two that I remember the most were:
1) Highlander. This one has remained lodged in my brain because not only did it star Christopher Lambert, (who in my typical 12 year old style I thought was “totally hot”), but I also have a very clear memory of asking my Dad if this movie was “gross.” He assured me that it wasn’t, and less than ten seconds after those words were spoken, someone promptly had their head lopped off in a parking garage. This coincidentally is also the moment where I first realized that my Dad has two levels of correctness; right and less right.
2) Mad Max. This was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I got completely wrapped up in it. It was so gritty, and tough. I absolutely loved it. (Plus that lead actor guy wasn’t half bad looking.) Thus began my adoration of Mel Gibson.

“We Were Soldiers”, the latest in the growing war film trend, is based on the true story of the Americans first encounter with the North Vietnamese in the la Drang Valley. On November 14, 1965, Lt. Col. Harold Moore lead the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry (the same unit number as Custer) straight to an area known as the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” – 400 men versus 2000 enemy soldiers.

Director Russell Wallace has quite obviously taken the time to find out what audiences love about Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, The Million Dollar Hotel), and has capitalized on it. As Lt. Col. Harold Moore, Gibson is jaw dropping, charming, and good naturedly mischievous. Instead of letting his character be all muscle, he and Wallace are courageous enough to let his human side shine through, creating a leader that even the most cowardly of us would follow to the ends of the earth. In the recent glut of war films from the Hollywood machine, there is no hero as elegantly and endearingly portrayed as Gibson’s Moore.

My opinion on Chris Klein (Election) has just gone from next to nothing to through the roof. His portrayal of the young soldier Jack Ceogaughan is nicely layered with splashes of bravado and courage, and yet he lets there be a concern show through over whether or not a soldier can also be a good father. An excellent job.

Greg Kinnear (As Good as it Gets, Sabrina) is at his roguish best as “Snake” Crandall, the brave helicopter pilot who doggedly flies Moore’s men into danger, flying out those who were unlucky enough to be hurt, without a thought for food or sleep. Kinnear is constantly flouting my expectations. I never would have thought in a million years that a talk show host would be as talented an actor as he has proven himself to be. (And I certainly never thought he’d be nominated for the Oscar.) Crandall is a wonderfully written character that Kinnear pumps a lot of verve into.

As intrepid reporter Joe Galloway, Barry Pepper (The Green Mile) brings a human touch to this tale of barbarism. Pepper’s performance is very real. Coming from an environment where war is portrayed as nothing but glorious, he’s genuinely surprised by the battle he sees, and overwhelmed by the suffering all around him. There’s a very wonderful scene in which he confesses to Moore (Gibson) that he hasn’t the faintest idea how to write the story of what he’s just seen, during which at least three audience members burst into tears.

Sam Elliot (Tombstone, Gettysburg) plays Plumely, Moore’s right hand man. His gruff, but inwardly warm portrayal adds a lovely level of charm to this band of soldiers.

A delicate touch to the finale of this film is a shot of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, with the names of the fallen flashing by. As the lights came up against Mel Gibson standing at the monument, I looked about, and was struck by how similar the audience members, and Wallace’s onscreen soldiers were reacting to the horror they’d just seen; some with bravado trying to be funny, others sniffling. But there wasn’t a soul not tremendously moved. I highly recommend everyone go see this film. Perhaps, (if he likes that sort of thing) you might take your Dad.

About the Reviewer: Jen Johnston is one of those lucky few who make a living at making sarcastic comments about films she loves,
trying to remember them later, and writing them down. In her spare time she plays saxophone and piano, ballet dances, paints, does yoga, reads, runs, does endurance races with her horse, and (completely destroying her sweetness and light image) boxes competitively. Jen lives in Nova Scotia.

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