We Were Soldiers


Directed by: Randall Wallace
Written by:Randall Wallace
Starring: Mel Gibson, Madeline Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott, Chris Klein, Barry Pepper, Keri Russell, Ryan Hurst
Released: April 25, 2002
Grade: B+

To strengthen my viewpoint on this film, it’s best to compare it to the recent Black Hawk Down.  There’s been a lot of good war movies around of late but just because war is a serious issue doesn’t exempt it from regular criticisms.

I’m not a war historian but this battle in Vietnam took place at the Valley Of Death on November 14, 1965.  It effectively began the involvement of the United States in the war and Lt. Col. Hal Moore (played in the film by Mel Gibson) led 400 inexperienced U.S. soldiers into battle against 2,000 of the enemy.

If you need some juicing up, here’s a quote Gibson spouts early in the film - “We are moving into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won’t care what color he is, or by what name he calls God.  We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy.  I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive.  But this I swear... when we go into battle, I will be the first to step on the field and I will be the last to step off.  And I will leave no one behind... dead or alive.”

I wasn’t even slightly stirred by the above speech.  We Were Soldiers does lack passion despite the war scenes being very brutal and graphic.  Black Hawk Down had an added dimension in that it was a film about war but also a film about commradery.  This just felt like just a plain old war flick.  The purpose of battle was lost and it became a movie where the Americans must “win” at all cost.  I’d love to see Americans make a film where they all get butchered by the enemy and see if it makes the same gross at the box-office.

There’s too much melodrama with the film crossing back and forth from Vietnam to a military base in America where the wives are left waiting.  We see their painful reactions on learning that their husbands have been killed but these scenes are too small to be significant.  They weren’t needed.  Further, the ending is too long and unnecessarily drags out the battle’s aftermath.

The film still has a lot going for it.  Director Randall Wallace has had an interesting career.  He was nominated for an Oscar in 1995 for writing Braveheart.  He was also nominated for a Golden Razzie in 2001 for writing Pearl Harbour.  I guess the two kind of cancel each other out - one good for one bad.  Wallace also directed 1998’s The Man In The Iron Mask.  It seems Wallace likes to avoid modern settings in making his movies.

Mel Gibson puts up a good show and was recently in Australia to promote the film for its Anzac Day release.  Performances are hard to appreciate in that there’s so much noise and camera movement but Chris Klein also stood out.  Of the camera work, I liked the nice touch of the blood drops splattering on the camera lens - a small and effective technique.

We Were Soldiers is worth a look but I think instead of being shocked and horrified, we’re starting to yawn when confronted by repetitive violence and Yank-themed storylines.