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We Were Soldiers (2002)
An honest portrayal. No politics, just war
I am amazed at the misdirected and uninformed criticisms contained in some of the reviews. While most reviews are rightfully favorable, some seem to view this movie as just some jingoistic portrayal of American history, rather than accepting that this is a "real story" told by the "real commander" of the US forces involved. It is not totally faithful to the extraordinary book by Hal Moore, "We Were Soldiers Once--and Young", but a great attempt was made, with a great result. The battle portrayed certainly occurred at a time (1965) when the War in Vietnam was not yet in disfavor with the nation. To put it in a social context, Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" was a number one song that year in the US. The national "guilt trip" had not yet set in (to continue for the next 25 years). The particular political context in which to put our involvement in Vietnam at that time was as a continuation of our foreign policy of "containment" (of communism). That was it. While the validity of that concept may be argued, that policy is why we fielded troops in Vietnam. Those troops of the 1st Cav or any other unit had no vote in the matter. They went and they did their duty. The 1st Cav was among the first large units to arrive after the advisors, and this was the first big, set-piece battle. Moore was an excellent commander, with excellent subordinates and troops, and made the best out of a very tough situation. The movie even paid due respect to a tough, dedicated opponent--the North Vietnamese Army. Gibson, Elliot and Kinnear, in particular, turned in fine performances. Unfavorable comparisons of this movie to "Platoon" are without basis, as that movie was based on a work of pure fiction. "Platoon" was plagued by Oliver Stone's own political angst and bitter orientation (evidently) regarding his own service in the infantry in Vietnam, and distorted the image of US infantrymen in Vietnam, portraying them primarily as either murderers, druggies or both (if you doubt that, read Robert Hemphill's, "Platoon, Bravo Company", which tells the real story of the unit Stone served in and allegedly portrayed in "Platoon"). "We Were Soldiers" contained scenes that were brutal, shocking, and violent--welcome to real combat. I served in Vietnam as an infantryman, and I swear that this movie was head and shoulders above "Platoon", "Full-Metal Jacket" or "Appocalypse Now" in its portrayal of American infantry combat in that war.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
One of the best Vietnam War movies
This is one of the very best and most realistic movies on the Vietnam War. There is no politicizing angst like "Platoon" and no flights of fantasy and metaphysics like "Full-Metal Jacket" or "Apocalypse Now". Those movies were too full of themselves and their "message" (and Oliver Stone, in particular, sought more to advance his political viewpoints by distortion rather than show realistic combat). These guys in the 101st Airborne were engaged in a brutal, actual battle. From the first ambush scene through each of the assaults on the hill, realism was achieved. The North Vietnamese hiding safe in their bunkers during air-strikes, only to emerge and start shooting and rolling grenades down the hill again on the paratroopers--all real. The conversations among the troops, about what they would do when they got home, what kind of car they would buy, are all typical of what I remember from my year over there in the infantry. There was no pontificating about good and evil as with Oliver Stone's much overrated "Platoon". Most of all, it showed guys trying just to take care of each other, while still carrying on with a meat-grinder of a mission. The actors were all virtually unknown at the time this was made, but acquitted themselves well. This movie was unfortunately underpromoted and slipped virtually unnoticed through the theaters, leaving most of us to catch it in the video stores. I am glad I came across it. If you missed this one, go rent it.
Band of Brothers (2001)
One of the best war movies/series ever
I have read virtually all of Ambrose's WWII books, and this mini-series faithfully follows one of his best. The experience of these men of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, was mirrored throughout the many divisions of Army and Marine ground troops in WWII. I feel that this series represents that collective experience in the finest, most forthright manner possible and pays tribute to them all. The acting, mostly by previously unheralded actors, was superb--particularly that of Damien Lewis (Capt.Winters). Winters had to mature along with his increasing command responsibilites, had to learn to turn over his initial company-level responsibilities to others as he was promoted to battalion commander. It was clearly tough for him, particularly when he had to order attacks on heavily defended objectives, without being to lead his former command directly. All of the characters were developed enough that you cared about each of them as individuals, and felt the loss of each of them through the attrition during the brutal fighting in the Northern European Theater. They cared for each other as fighting men do (confirmed by my own experience in the infantry in Vietnam), but at the same time they had to carry on with the mission regardless of loss. Replacements are regarded warily at first, but then managed to blend in with the veterans if they showed they were worthy of joining this band of brothers. The plot is real, and as such is neither macho nor macabre--it just is presented as it really happened. The truths of combat are stranger than fiction. The interviews with the actual veterans, interspersed throughout the series, added authenticity, verified what the series was showing. These representatives of "The Greatest Generation" did themselves and this nation proud. Though I knew the story well, I eagerly looked for to each new episode to see how well it tracked with the book and how well the actors and director portrayed it. Up to this series, I had thought that "Once an Eagle" (starring Sam Elliot) was the best war series, but this one is now at the top of the class in my view.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
One of the best war films ever--real, not based on a novel
Settle down in your seat and hold on. This movie, after a fairly brief scene setting, moves right into high gear. From the time the shooting starts, it is like the first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan", but stretched out over the next hour and a half. This was a real event, not a plot from a novel. This is not any sanctimonious sermon like "Platoon". There is no flag waving. There is no political posturing--it is just a matter of the Rangers, Delta Force and pilots all trying their best to make sure they and their buddies get out alive--"leaving no man behind". For them, the only way out is to knock down every Somali militia man between them and the helicopter crash sites and ultimately, safety. And those Somalis just keep coming. The steadfast pursuit of the Americans by the Somalis, with no apparent regard for their own mortality, brings back scenes from "Zulu". The closest recent comparison for street-by-street battle was probaby the US Marines fighting to retake Hue's Citadel in 1968 Vietnam. The battle scenes are realistically portrayed, and the viewer does not even see that common war movie phenomena wherein the good guys appear to have an "endless magazine" for their weapons. These guys actually change magazines, run through them, then change again, and continue firing, ultimately having to conserve what little they have remaining (per the book, the Rangers and Delta did get one sorely needed ammo and medical resupply during the night of the actual battle). The noise is overwhelmingly and realistic loud (the nearly deaf machine-gunner was not a figment of the script-writer's imagination). I speak from experience as an infantryman in Vietnam. But I fortunately never had to run this kind of gauntlet for an extended period (few ever have). It should be required viewing for current and future military people, for it illustrates that "Murphy's Law" is often the companion of a military mission. It is at such a point that training, instincts, initiative and unit cohesiveness must kick in if the unit is to survive. This group of Rangers, Delta and the pilots supporting them demonstrated the concept in an extraordinary manner. A definite "10" rating.
The Boys in Company C (1978)
The absolutely worst Vietnam War film
This is absolutely the worst, most distorted movie on Vietnam. The script had no relevance to reality in terms of training or Vietnam combat. I know--I was an Army infantryman in that war in 1967-68. This is an insult to my brother Marine infantrymen, and the producers, director and actors in this movie owe them an apology. Stan Shaw, as the "guy who will get the others home alive", but is primarily interested in shipping heroin home in the bodies of our honorable dead, is but one despicable character in this soap opera. There was obviously no military background among those that should have advised the scriptwriters and director. The drill instructor, Ermy, is actually a much decorated, multi-tour Vietnam Marine veteran and I am amazed he was even associated with this dismal affair. All the laudatory comments by other reviewers have to be based on either no combat experience of their own, and thus a dependence on the tripe that Hollywood continually hands out on this and most wars. You want even a taste of reality, see "Hamburger Hill" or "Saving Private Ryan".