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We Were Soldiers
DVD disk
10.08.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
We Were Soldiers order
Director:
Randall Wallace

Actors:
Mel Gibson
Madeleine Stowe
Greg Kinnear

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Based on historical facts, this film recounts the story of the first major battle between American and Vietnamese soldiers in 1965. Led into battle by Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Gibson), 395 soldiers from the Air Cavalry were surrounded for almost three days by over four thousand NVA troops. This movie recounts both the horror they went though, as well as the pain left back home with their families.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
This excellent, heart wrenching tale tells part of the Vietnam War story without the usually biased portrayal of the Vietnamese soldiers. Its biggest credit lies in the fact that the Vietnamese Army and leadership are portrayed in the same light as the Americans, which is to say as soldiers, fighting for their own ideals. This fact succeeds in giving the film instant credibility, rather than having it dismissed as Hollywood fluff, as does the intense realism and horror of its images. Gunfire, desperation, death, charred flesh and courage are among the vivid depictions of war that make up this extraordinarily well made movie as Randall Wallace, the writer of the classic BRAVEHEART teams up with its star to form yet another impressively touching and emotional piece of work.

Mel Gibson is his usual fantastic self as the colonel who promises his men that they will either live or die together, and who spends the agonizing battle making sure he keeps that promise. Surrounded by a great supporting cast including Madeleine Stowe as his wife Julie, Greg Kinnear as Major Bruce Crandall and the awesome Sam Elliott as the tough-as-shoeleather Sgt. Major Plumley. Stowe is quite effective as the soldier's wife fearing the worst and Kinnear takes a very welcome break from the romantic-comedy genre to flex some serious dramatic muscle, but the show-stopper is definitely Elliott as a grizzled WWII vet who goes into battle with a pistol and refuses to get down...even under a hail of gunfire.

Credit definitely goes out to Wallace, who succeeds in putting together a highly emotional film, while preserving the dignity of the battle. The film is a visual stunner and is accompanied by so much of the hellish sound of gunfire that the horror of the battle is depicted in a way that would intimidate any would-be hero who has ever lacked respect for war veterans. Accompanied by a very eerie score and some great visual effects, this film quickly fell into my "must own" category.
THE EXTRAS
The bonus material on this DVD begins with a feature-length commentary by director/writer Randall Wallace. Wallace does talk a lot and provides a fair amount of information. While he may not be the most entertaining guy in the world, it's obvious that he is a very good talent and he does fill in a commentary track pretty well.

The commentary was followed by a 25-minute long featurette entitled "Getting it right" behind-the-scenes. We see a lot of the main players in there, including Wallace and Gibson, but another highlight is the series of interviews with some veterans (including Lt. Col. Hall Moore) of the battle who discuss it with us and the actors. Very interesting indeed. We also get into a fair amount of detail about other "behind-the-scenes" topics, including music, makeup, costumes, sets, visual effects and many others.

To close it all up, we have access to ten Deleted Scenes, available with or without commentary by Randall Wallace. Some of them are actually quite long (upwards of 2 minutes) and pretty much all of them are good. Wallace's commentary, if you choose to listen to it, is actually quite informative about the reasons for each scene being deleted. One strange thing was that the Theatrical Trailer did not appear on the DVD.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
This is the type of film that can be watched several times and still keep, at least, part of its emotional baggage with it. Very well made but the DVD extra features are a bit skimpy. Then again, if like myself you give more importance to the film than to its features...then it's a definitely worthy addition to any collection.
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