We Were Soldiers

Review Date:
Director: Randall Wallace
Writer: Randall Wallace
Producers: Randall Wallace, Bruce Davey
Mel Gibson
Sam Elliott
Barry Pepper
This film’s recounts the events leading up to the American’s first major showdown in Vietnam in November of 1965, and the several days of constant bombardment and strategy in which the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, lead by Mel Gibson, participated.
Yet another solid war movie, which unlike BLACK HAWK DOWN, with its emphasis on the battles, or HART’S WAR, which appointed a soldier’s honor as the crux of its drive, takes yet another trip down memory lane, with a very specific recounting of one particular battalion’s three day combat duty in Vietnam. The story is well told, with a basic foundation laid out before the soldiers get to the warfront, with development of relationships and background information on some of the principals and military training, until things go to hell, and the troops hit the ground in the film’s second half a la FULL METAL JACKET, and shit hits the bloody fan. The stuff that I liked most about this movie include its lead actor, Mel Gibson, who surprised me with his restrained but effective showing, and actually got me to lump up near the end, and the film’s innate ability to keep me interested throughout, even though I, as many other filmgoers out there, was pretty sick of war movies at this point (which says even more about the film, since it was definitely able to win me over). I also enjoyed many individual sequences which stood out on either a visual or poignancy standpoint in the film, including the well thought out scene of the “wives back home” and the emotional rollercoaster which they went through as their husbands fought for their country, and the scene in which Mel Gibson’s character slowly took his initial paces out of his home and towards the rendez vous point at which he was to begin his journey into the unknown.

There was another emotional scene near the end of the film between Gibson and the other solid acting thumb up in this film, Barry Pepper, which also did me in, with both men effectively conveying some of the feelings bottled up until that point. Kudos to Hollywood for giving poor Pepper a chance to get back into the game after he was unfairly brought down by the whole BATTLEFIELD EARTH fiasco. What didn’t I especially appreciate about the film? Well, there were a number of “smaller” issues which gnawed at me, including the fact that as per my similar complaint in BLACK HAWK DOWN, the battle scenes started to ring a little redundant after a while, although I will give it up to this film for showing us more of the strategic elements involved from both sides of the warring factions. There were also a number of scenes in which I could barely make out people’s faces because it was too dark or the shadows were too strong. Yeah, I know, it’s a war and it’s nighttime and all, but it bothered me, so I’m pointing it out. The film also didn’t particularly bring anything new to the table in regards to “war movies”, I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid film and all, but at some point, I guess you really have to be a major war movie buff to get much out of these types of flicks. There were also two characters that were built up to a certain extent early on in the film, but for some reason, neither one was particularly developed in the movie’s second half (all Kinnear did once they got to ‘Nam was sit in his pilot’s helmet and look out the helicopter’s window every now and then). Klein was especially slighted (although one might understand why, when you see how much more effective Pepper is versus the former’s earlier scenes).

But most of these small bits didn’t really take away from the film’s overall success as an inspiring war movie, with its honorable intentions, its ability to re-create a specific battle and put us right in the middle of it without much confusion, its to-be-congratulated effort to give the other side a “human” face instead of the typically one-dimensional “enemy” marker and its capacity to pull the families back home into the whole war story, which as anyone can attest, is a key element to many soldiers’ resilience on the battlefield. Oh my, I also forgot to mention the film’s memorable score, which did sound a little bit like a mix between the one from PLATOON and PEARL HARBOR (although that Irish/Scottish folk song didn’t do it for me) and the perfectly cast Sam Elliott as Gibson’s tough-as-nails right-hand man. If that dude told me to kick ass for my country, you better believe that I’d be first in line at the artillery barracks with a “born to kill” sticker smacked dab on my dirty, green helmet and ass-kickin’ on my mind. That’s right after I shit my pants, of course. All in all, the film is an engaging two hours+ of a soldier’s journey into war and the courage, honor and heart that it took many of the men to face down an enemy about whom they knew very little.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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