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I live with a Vietnam Vet who served in the late 1960s with 1st Cav.
Medivac. During service he earned two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished
Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. Since WE WERE SOLDIERS concerns the
1st Cav., Randy wanted to see it. I reluctantly agreed; I am not
partial to war films and I dislike Mel Gibson, and Randy is very hard
on Vietnam War films. He dismisses PLATOON as a Hollywood 8x10 glossy;
says APOCALYPSE NOW is an interesting movie that captures the paranoia,
but all the technical details are wrong; and describes DEER HUNTER as
excellent in its depiction of the strangeness of coming home but so
full of plot holes that he can hardly endure it. And about one and all
he says: "It wasn't like that."
He was silent through the film, and when we left the theatre I asked what he thought. He said, "They finally got it. That's what it was like. All the details are right. The actors were just like the men I knew. They looked like that and they talked like that. And the army wives too, they really were like that, at least every one I ever knew." The he was silent for a long time. At last he said, "You remember the scene where the guy tries to pick up a burn victim by the legs and all the skin slides off? Something like that happened to me once. It was at a helicopter crash. I went to pick him up and all the skin just slid right off. It looked just like that, too. I've never told any one about it." In most respects WE WERE SOLDIERS is a war movie plain and simple. There are several moments when the film relates the war to the politics and social movements that swirled about it, and the near destruction of the 1st. Cav.'s 7th Battalion at Ia Drang clearly arises from the top brass' foolish decision to send the 7th into an obvious ambush--but the film is not so much interested in what was going on at home or at the army's top as it is in what was actually occurring on the ground. And in this it is extremely meticulous, detailed, and often horrifically successful. Neither Randy nor I--nor any one in the theatre I could see--was bored by or dismissive of the film. It grabs you and it grabs you hard, and I can easily say that it is one of the finest war movies I have ever seen, far superior to the likes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which seems quite tame in comparison.
Perhaps the single most impressive thing about the film is that it never casts its characters in a heroic light; they are simply soldiers who have been sent to do a job, and they do it knowing the risks, and they do it well in spite of the odds. Mel Gibson, although I generally despise him as both an actor and a human being, is very, very good as commanding officer Hal Moore, and he is equaled by Sam Elliot, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, and every other actor on the battlefield. The supporting female cast, seen early in the film and in shorter scenes showing the home front as the battle rages, is also particularly fine, with Julie Moore able to convey in glance what most actresses could not communicate in five pages of dialogue. The script, direction, cinematography, and special effects are sharp, fast, and possess a "you are there" quality that is very powerful.
I myself had a criticism; there were points in the film when I found the use of a very modernistic, new-agey piece of music to be intrusive and out of place. And we both felt that a scene near the end of the movie, when a Vietnamese commander comments on the battle, to be improbable and faintly absurd. But these are nit-picky quibbles. WE WERE SOLDIERS is a damn fine movie. I'll give Randy, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the last word: "It may not be 'the' Vietnam movie. I don't think there could ever be 'the' Vietnam movie. But they pretty much get everything right. That's how it looked and sounded, and that's what I saw, and this is the best movie about Vietnam I've ever seen." Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
It's quite sad to read some of the reviews of this film. "full of clichés" "typical weak war film" etc. I would like for the writers of such comments to look at the film they "coughed up their reddies" for, and ask what they were really after? Do they know what the film was about? The director's aim was to create an honest depiction of a real life event. To tell the story of a battle and war in a way that would make people who weren't there understand what it may have been like. To bring home the stark realisation of how scary the battlefield would be, and explore the wider picture of how families, and even the enemy were affected by events too. Many of the words used by the dying men are documented as being the actual words. In the editors commentary, he explains "these were the true dying words 'tell my wife I love her'. In that situation, it is the reality of what is on people's minds. I'm sorry they couldn't have come up with something more melo-dramatic for the theatre audience." The line that really bought it home for me though was that soldiers who had fought in that battle thanked the director. They said he had managed to show the realities of an event in their lives that they had, to that point, never managed to fully explain to their families. If the people who were there say this is a realistic account of events and emotions, then that's the best accolade a film can have. I was scared and moved by it and would recommend it highly. PS. to the plot critics out there... would you rather they sexed up a true story? Surely that would be a grave tragedy.
I was privileged to see a preview of Mel Gibson's new film "We Were
Soldiers" based upon the book written by his real life character, Lt. Col.
Harold Moore, along with Joe Galloway. I attended a showing along with
numerous other Viet Nam vets and it would seem that there were as many
opinions about the movie as there were viewers. Like the war itself, each
person in attendance probably had some personal experiences that the movie
brought back from that deep, and sometimes distant, place we have put
The movie was almost overwhelmingly graphical, but afterwards I realized this was instrumental in the telling of the story. For the movie is truly about the leadership that Col. Moore brought to his men of the 1st of the 7th, and his determination that they would not suffer the fate of the French in Viet Nam, nor his own unit's most infamous battle, that of Custer's Stand at Little Big Horn.
It was his determination and commitment that his men be as highly trained, as strongly molded as a unit, and most importantly as well lead as possible that stands out. This determination is obviously rooted in his deeply abiding belief that military leaders shall never forget that when they lead men into war, many of those men will never come back alive, but that those who lead shall never abandon them, even in their shared darkest hours.
And while the movie highly succeeds in conveying the horror and tragedy that war is....has been...and always shall be, it was more difficult for me to realize that our War Department and Army could have been so callous as to have delegated the responsibility of notifying next-of-kin of the death of their loved ones to the local Yellow Cab company. Then I realized that in late 1965 it was all so new and no one knew that this war was going to grow and consume so many young American lives over the next nine years.
The two most significant scenes in the movie for me were firstly, the scene when the course of the battle teeters on the brink of either disaster or success and the most important communication that Col. Moore's superiors have to convey is that General Westmoreland would like for him to leave the battlefield and fly to Saigon so the general can have a briefing. This more than anything pointed out how tragically we were doomed to failure in Viet Nam due to the political will, not the military will, being in control. The second most significant scene was in the airport where one soldier is pushing his buddy through the concourse and the voice over says..."They did not fight for God.....country.....right. They fought for each other", a fact that every Viet Nam vet would attest to.
This a movie worth seeing. It is another testament, with a worthy cinematographic effort, to the futility and absurdity of war, and how that among madness can be greatness. It is a movie that will unlikely leave the viewer devoid of emotion. What those emotions may be are as likely to be as highly personal, as the strength of their feeling.
`Saving Private Ryan' redefined the war genre and opened the floodgates to
new generation of war movies. It pushed the boundaries of acceptability
frankly showing war in all its grisly glory. As such it gave us a better
understanding of how terrible and frightening war is. `Black Hawk Down'
took the graphic violence to a new level, with an intensity that matched
beach landing of SPR, but of a duration that was almost
`We Were Soldiers' is the latest big budget war offering from Hollywood. In many ways, I consider this to be the most complete of the three. Writer/Director Randall Wallace (who wrote "Braveheart", "Pearl Harbor" and the screenplay for this film), takes the understanding of war to the next level, by offering more than one perspective to the events. Of the three films, this film has the best workup, the best character development, and the most nuanced look at the battle. He brings all the sustained intensity of BHD in the action sequences, but introduces the NVA perspective, the wives' perspective and a far more charismatic and heroic central figure in Lt. Col. Hal Moore.
Based on real events, this film shows war as being horrendous and heartless to both sides. It expands outside the combat zone to visit the ramifications on the families as well. The scenes with the wives getting the telegrams are poignant reminders of how war reaches beyond the battlefield. Wallace's treatment grabs us on an emotional level and shocks the senses. Unlike BHD, which presented the characters in a very anonymous way, we come to know these characters and their families and identify with them.
Of course, the film lacks the hard edge that would make it starkly believable. It is after all a Hollywood production and not a documentary. However, Wallace pours enough realism into the depictions to assure that this doesn't turn into another sappy melodrama like `Pearl Harbor', which was really nothing more than a romance with a long battle scene in the middle. Wallace finds the optimal balance between engaging storytelling and the brutality of combat.
The acting is excellent. Mel Gibson offers the right combination of hard nosed officer and father figure (both to his children and his men). Gibson is steadfast and courageous without being harsh. His portrayal of Moore is so well played, so charismatic and heroic, that it is impossible to believe that such a person could actually exist.
Sam Elliot follows an outstanding performance in `The Contender' with this gem as Sergeant Major Plumley, the tough as nails warhorse who serves as Moore's non commissioned adjutant. Elliot plays the intransigent career soldier to the hilt, where nothing including life itself is more important than honor and discipline. Barry Pepper also turns in a fine performance as Joe Galloway, the photo journalist who hops on a helicopter to take pictures in the center of the battle and finds himself with a rifle in his hands fighting for his life.
This is among the best war films in recent memory and probably the best film on the Vietnam War film since `Full Metal Jacket'. I rated it a 10/10. This film is not for everyone. It contains graphic violence and disturbingly realistic battle scenes. It is a gripping and distressing film that should be required viewing for statesmen and generals alike.
I should never be surprised that people, who wouldn't recognize Principle,
much less Honor, Duty, or Country if it introduced itself, see virtue as
vice. As one who served in that war, I found the movie to be factual to
point of pain. Those who call this movie racist, lack vocabulary. or an
understanding of racism. I don't know which is sadder. This movie tells
part of a soldier's story very well. Soldiers march to a different
how tragic that so many, today, still refuse to honor those who protected
The millions in Indo-China murdered at the hands of the Communist cry that our "racism" was so poorly lead at the highest civilian levels that we abandon them. Their blood is not on my hands or on the hands of my fellow soldiers. It is on the hands of those who are so blind they refuse to see. A valid case could be made that that there are errors in the story, certainly it doesn't tell the rest of the story, or of the next part of this battle where US casualties were 40%. What it does tell it tells very well. Those men were volunteers, and their nobility shows in this movie. I recommend it, especially for any who would want to understand those who served at that time.
This film is so different from the traditionally cynical (and rightly so)
Vietnam War movies. While it goes without question that this film depicts
the bloody and gruesome horrors of the tragedy of the first major conflict
of the war, it does so while juxtaposing the story with that of stories of
the home front and the enemy. The enemy in this film is not the
animalistic, silent enemy we are used to. We hear this enemy speak, we
his love for his family and his devotion to his cause. While being
bombarded with images of death and destruction on the battlefield, we are
brought back home to see the wives as they face the death themselves.
While of course not a flawless movie, it was without a doubt moving, and I highly recommend it.
I for one am someone who was inspired to read the book "We were
Soldiers Once and Young" after seeing this movie. WWS is about a
distinct event that actually happened. SGM Plumley was a soldier's
soldier, with five combat jumps in three wars and an astounding three
combat infantry badges. LTC Moore was the sort of leader who could keep
his head and lead his troops through the worst of battle. People who
complain of clichés in this movie might as well complain that people in
18th century movies wear three-cornered hats.
To those looking for an anti-war message, it is there. When Moore goes to Division headquarters and gets his mission, he asks about projected enemy in his area of operations. The staff officer standing next to the general says "a manageable number." To this Moore responds with words to the effect of "which means you have no idea." It turns out that Moore's battalion gets dropped on top of a vastly larger enemy force (if I remember correctly, they get dropped right next to an NVA brigade). Ordinarily, it order to assure success in attack, you want to have three times the numbers of your enemy. In this case, the ratio was 4:1 going the other way. Then the battle is about how artillery and air support makes up the difference in numbers.
The obvious criticism here is that the command was fumbling around in the dark. At the end of the movie, the names of the 70+ men who died are prominently displayed on the screen. A military mind is not treasonous and will not disrespect its superiors, but it will let facts speak for themselves.
The next comment is only tangentially related to this movie. However, many voices here have taken the opportunity to vent their views on Vietnam, so I feel compelled to put things in a broader historical context.
There was a war that did not take place between 1945 and the fall of the Berlin wall. It would have been called WWIII. The Soviet Union and the US stood eye-to-eye for 40+ years, but did not blink. It was an ideological conflict with an evil that meant death to 50+ million people in communist countries in this century. It was conflict with a system that vastly constrained freedom. Fortunately for the world, the US finally prevailed. The struggle fought between communism and the west was fought in a variety of ways: in public relations, in sports, in propaganda, and in a series of proxy wars. In Korea, Greece, Vietnam, Afghanistan and a variety of smaller stages, East contested with West. To the people caught up in these local conflicts, these wars were absolute tragedies. However, in the grand scheme of things, these conflicts pale to insignificance when compared to the 500,000,000 who would have died in WWIII.
Behind even a forgotten war lies the memory of the fallen...This movie is definitely among the top 10 films ever made. It places the viewer right in the middle of the Vietnam War, grabs their emotions and sets them free. This movie commemorates the memories and makes heroes of each and every husband, brother, and son involved in a forgotten war- a war that was dismissed and frowned upon by the American nation as a whole. The film also takes the viewer into the home of the soldier. It invades the private life of the loved ones at home. We feel as though we are a part of the family in one scene, and the buddy of a fallen soldier in the next. A wife, child, friend of a soldier gone to war to fight for an ungrateful nation one minute, and the next the brave and loyal soldier. This moving and true story will take its viewer and bestow upon them a closer understanding, and a greater respect and gratefulness for our nation's true heroes.
Ever since 1970 when I finished my third tour of combat duty with the Marines in Viet Nam I have been waiting for a film that reflected the American Fighting Man in the Viet Nam war as an American Fighting Man; not a drugged-out, anti-war whiner. Well this is it. The movie is non-stop action after the first fifteen minutes of character development is finished. Having experienced what it is like to be over-run by the NVA during the third week of my first VN tour I can tell you that this movie does an excellent job of showing the excitement, tension, exhaustion, chaos, and courage of an extended battle. While this is by no means the best war movie I have ever seen, it is the first Viet Nam war movie which has provided me with a sense of satisfaction after leaving the theater. Mel Gibson turns in a good performance, Sam Elliot is a bit stiff. The wives of the soldiers are believable. Including a bit of the NVA's attitude about the war adds a balanced flavor to the film. Overall I would say that you will experience at least a small part the intensity of war if you go to this movie. I took my female companion and she was shocked, touched, and thrilled with it. As Americans, we need to remember that freedom is not, and never has been, free. It is always paid for with the blood of those who fight to get it, sustain it, or expand it. The politically correct may not like this film, but then who cares what they like. Thanks for making this film Mel. I've been waiting over 30 years to see it.
In the tradition of such war film classics as The Bridges at Toko Ri,
To Hell and Back well as John Wayne's The Green Berets is this
seemingly out of place epic with the amount of cynical pestilence
The pace is lightning fast once the scenes transfer into the early period of the Vietnam war before the public grew impatient. The score of the film is often overlooked but in this case it provides plenty of emotion especially as the 7th Regiment assembles for the trip to South Vietnam beneath the radio towers late at night.
Of a forgotten battle with unknown heroes for both forces this is a great war movie that should be a lesson for future productions.
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