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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20.57%
Average: 16.31%
Pretty Bad: 16.31%
Total Crap: 9.22%

6 reviews, 105 user ratings

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We Were Soldiers
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by Erik Childress

"Who Feels Like A War Cinema Veteran?"
2 stars

During my screening of Hollywood’s latest war epic, We Were Soldiers, amidst the massive carnage, waiting and sneak attacks, a question leapt into my mind. How many soldiers in such combat actually found themselves soiling their uniforms? I thought of this not only because I imagined myself possibly a victim of dirty skivvies if I ever found myself in such a quandary, but I can’t recall any film actually showing such a predicament. We’ve seen the realism and the bloody horror of war, certainly including nerve-induced puking and no doubt, a yellow stain or two, but other than the stories of people losing all control of their internal functions at the moment of their death, I have yet to see one literally scared shitless.

While I would never think to compare myself to the brave few who have fought for this country, the brutal reality of war films in the last 4 years have tried to put audiences into the thick of things and I, for one, am starting to feel like a battle-scarred veteran. It started in 1998 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s monumental Saving Private Ryan, whose opening 30 minutes would change the face of war cinema forever. Later that same year, The Thin Red Line helped put us into a druglike haze so we could experience fighting and recite poetic rhetoric at the same time while making us believe that it is possible to get some sleep during war. Then cynicism started to come through with the Gulf War Syndrome of Three Kings before flag-waving patriotism could come back in style with The Patriot and Pearl Harbor.

Thankfully, we’ve gotten down ‘n’ dirty again with Enemy at the Gates, Black Hawk Down and the harrowingly brilliant miniseries Band of Brothers. Lest leave no wartorn shrapnel stone unturned, there were several other epics that conveyed the manmade horror of armed conflict whether it be medieval, ancient or downright Civil. With reluctant thanks to history repeating itself not just in life but in the movies, we’re now given We Were Soldiers and, frankly, I feel as if I’ve received my million dollar wound and am ready for my ticket home.

We’re back to Vietnam this time, right at the beginning in 1964. Mel Gibson is Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the new leader on the base with his wife, Julie (Madeleine Stowe) and family in tow. With his no-nonsense yet optimistic approach to the daunting events ahead, his men instantly gravitate towards him. They include his second-in-command, Sergeant Major Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott), helicopter pilot Major Bruce “Snakeshit” Crandall (Greg Kinnear) and young new father but “born leader” 2nd Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein).

Moore and his men of the First Battalion of the Seventh Calvary (the same regiment as one General Custer) must then charge into and walk through “The Valley of Death” of Ia Drang in Vietnam. Soon after they would commence in a three-day battle, outnumbered and surrounded roughly 2000-400. Not all that different, except in numbers, from our conflict in Somalia nearly 30 years later.

The action keeps us rooted mostly in Vietnam, but here and there, we have to go back and check on the women. While not necessarily the weaker sex, certainly the weakest part of the movie. Even the warmup character establishment scenes have a certain hors d'ouerve of cliché cheese puffs that inspire unintentional laughs. Consider the way the term “whites only” is used for humor or how we meet several black soldiers on the battlefield but only a single black wife. (Perhaps she’s the descendant of the one black soldier who fought in The Patriot.)

The most ludicrous of all, however, is Stowe telling a fellow wife that a soldier’s dying words are invariably “tell my wife…I love her.” While in wartime that’s a tragic heartfelt deathbed cry, in the movies it’s unfortunately become an aphorism. And by setting us up for it with such an overbaked announcement, each successive time we hear a soldier spout those exact words, it plays more like a running joke in a Zucker/Abrahams film. Not necessarily something we should be thinking as our boys are crying out in unspeakable pain. These distractions become such an obtrusion that I couldn’t help but wince as Stowe decides to take over for the Western Union deliveryman in bringing the new widows their husband’s death letters. Does that really make it more comforting? Doesn’t she then become the most feared doorbell ringer in the neighborhood?

All strategy may be thrown out the chopper the minute a platoon finds themselves surrounded in enemy territory, but without the William Wallace-like war tactics Lt. Col. Moore was planning prior to going in the hot zone, the on-and-off fighting sequences come off like a game. The Vietnamese cheat by bringing five times as many players and then we cheat right back by using air support to put them on the permanent injured list.

Once again, this is not to demean the casualties we suffered or the horror that is war, but once you’ve seen it over and over and over again in the movies, there are only so many new places that a filmmaker can take us. We’ve all seen the doomed introductions, speeches about the future and bullet wounds that have covered virtually every square inch of the human body. Other than a couple new pieces of horror to remember (both involving burning flesh), you won’t have much more to take home to think about.

Writer/Director Randall Wallace (Braveheart, The Man In The Iron Mask) who condemned the treatment of his screenplay of Pearl Harbor by director Michael Bay shortly after it came out to widespread critical hatred (mostly to cover his butt) finds himself in familiar territory. Take out the carnage here so notably absent in that debacle and you’ll be listening to dialogue that would seem right at home in Pearl Harbor. By cutting back and forth between our forces and that of the Vietnamese leader and the “hey, he wears glasses and writes to his girlfriend, they must be human too” guy, I kept waiting to hear something along the lines of “the rise and fall of our empire is at stake.”

Mel Gibson is one of our most likable and reliable leading men working today, but here the trailers should have just bellowed “Mel Gibson IS John Wayne IN We Were Soldiers.” His Lt. Col. Moore is such a gung-ho speechist and talks in a gruff, partly Southern drawl that we expect to hear the word “pilgrim” at any minute. Sam Elliott may have the funniest role in the film, but do we need extra comic relief from a character who refuses to use anything but his own pistol, then stands tall and barely moves as the enemy charges? Greg Kinnear asserts himself well and it was nice to see “Private Ryan” vets Barry Pepper and Ryan Hurst get into the fold. Poor Keri Russell (TV’s Felicity) though gets the thankless task of playing wife to Chris Klein. Not only is she far more talented but her dialogue is reduced to scenes where she continues to say, “I’ll go with you.”

I suppose their's not to reason why, their's but to do and die, but reducing Vietnam to a flag-waving piece of the American spirit, even at a time when a decisive battle gave us reason to believe we could win the war, sort of flies in the face about everything we’ve learned about that ill-fated time in our history. (Wasn’t John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” harshly criticized for this very thing?) There are so many shots of American flags blowing in the wind (even inserted into letter-delivering montages) that even the worthiest veteran may choke on patriotism. I guess after September 11, the last thing we’d want to see a soldier do is soil themselves.

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originally posted: 03/01/02 16:30:50
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User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell good not great war flick 4 stars
9/06/12 Ed Not every movie is artsy fartsy. This is an authentic and realistic story 4 stars
8/15/09 Jeff Wilder Good war pic that was WAY better than Pearl Harbor, 4 stars
1/27/08 Charles Tatum Fantastic, thanks to Wallace's direction 5 stars
12/14/07 davidbobo20 One of Mel Gibson's best. 5 stars
4/19/07 Stevo UK Wallace again pisses on the soldiers who fought and died for their country. 2 stars
3/06/07 mb Might Be The Best Movie I Ever Saw 5 stars
10/21/06 Hursty take it as is meant, a salute to your fighting men 5 stars
8/05/06 chienne What the hell has Madeleine done to her lips?? Lick em & stick her to a window. 4 stars
7/17/06 William Goss Sporadically exciting if familiar overall, yet never deludes itself w/ self-importance. 3 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Powerful in a few spots, quite blah in most of the others. 3 stars
4/08/06 Frank Rountree Excellent movie based on the true story, as a retired veteran I could relate well 5 stars
1/22/06 Cock pure shite 1 stars
1/22/06 Quigley it goes to much into the horrifying voilence, but it has its moments of true power 4 stars
12/10/05 JohnWalker Sam El;liot was fine,hell the Army is full of cowboys and it was a 45 not a 9mm 4 stars
11/26/05 Lowtax neocunt right wing jerk off material 1 stars
11/16/05 emily aguero i thought that movie was incredible, anyone who doesnt like it doesnt want to face the past 5 stars
10/21/05 Dustin Titley-stanzel I thought it was great and the soundtrack was awsome 5 stars
10/09/05 Brendon Messer This movie shows what war is really like freinds and family dying not some flashy shoot em 5 stars
9/24/05 c cold ab fab 5 stars
8/25/05 ES Sam Elliot rocks, this movie doesn't 2 stars
7/25/05 jjulian Check out DVD final deleted scene, which gutless director left out--makes a huge difference 4 stars
6/13/05 Indrid Cold Simple-minded but effective. Wisely avoids addressing the bigger issues about the war. 4 stars
6/08/05 Anthony G AMF your an idiot this movie rocked, Braveheart sucks black dick for coke like your mom amf 5 stars
4/13/05 Quigley powerful, but incredibly hard to sit throguh. I don't know if i could watch it again 4 stars
4/04/05 Ric Great battle scenes and solid acting override the cliched dialogue and repetitive violence. 4 stars
2/27/05 Beverley Mooren Best Viet Nam war movie ever. 5 stars
2/17/05 Rafael Ochoa good 4 stars
2/15/05 Rock-steady hard to imagine, that one year after this he becomes a christian and makes pos christ 5 stars
12/08/04 Rebecca To the critics that had bad ratings.....what the hell do you know? 5 stars
11/08/04 Steve It is the most KICK ASS Vietnam war movie ever 5 stars
11/07/04 R.W. Welch Early Air Cav op is effectively portrayed. Gibson quite convincing here. 4 stars
9/12/04 Donald Jacobsen Like DJ said, WTFPWNT 5 stars
8/14/04 Kenneth Curtis Best Vietnam movie I've ever seen. Really captures what the men went through then. 5 stars
7/30/04 DJ Wtf? Pwnt. 5 stars
7/18/04 Gynov Like Dan said, a great movie about LZ X-ray. 5 stars
4/22/04 Jamie Kennett One of the most moving war films ive seen 5 stars
4/01/04 Nick Byram Negative critics blinded by ideology. Great show of war horrors and brotherhood of troops 5 stars
12/07/03 J Explosive!!!! *** 1/2 out of 4 5 stars
11/12/03 Luke the knife attached to the cool 4 stars
11/09/03 Jim You pussies that are calling this film down, obviously were never in the service! 5 stars
10/01/03 Lonnie Strang outstanding performances by All, the battle of that fateful day seemed to me to be very acc 5 stars
7/07/03 Daniel Stockman This was a wonderful, and realistic film about the battle of Lz-Xray in November 1965. 5 stars
6/22/03 Daniel P Holla i've seen better film on teeth, less depth than feather 1 stars
4/25/03 mr. Pink Patriotic, overblown piece of propaganda shit. My shit is more tasteful than this crudeness 1 stars
4/10/03 Jack Bourbon Some good scenes. . . decent overall. 3 stars
2/04/03 torebel This is the movie my father (Vietnam Vet) had been waiting to see. 5 stars
2/02/03 Lord David Simplistic piffle - it was an awful war and deserves better than this 2 stars
2/02/03 G.C. Benwell worse than worst 1 stars
1/01/03 Millie Edwards I wish everyone would take the time to sit down and watch this movie. It is truly AWESOME! 5 stars
11/07/02 victor really good 5 stars
11/04/02 Massive Johnson badly done. i didn't know only pretty people went to vietnam. 2 stars
10/23/02 Phil M. Aficionado Expected ho-hum, but liked it plenty. Riveting action 4 stars
10/23/02 Phil M. Aficionado Expected ho-hum, but liked it plenty. Riveting action 4 stars
10/07/02 marco guerra how can people say 'good' ?iS THEIR BRAIN CONNECTED? 2 stars
10/01/02 woot Historically inaccurate, horribly cliched, meaningless. Read the book. 1 stars
9/29/02 Ryback good movie! Could have used some good music tho 4 stars
9/25/02 Eric Powerful and intense battle scenes. Gibson and Pepper are great. 5 stars
9/23/02 Jeff Mesenbrink THE ONLY REAL FUCKING VIETNAM MOVIE.......EVER!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/01/02 Doc Shock Enjoyable, but nothing special 4 stars
8/12/02 Richard Williams bloody AWESOME! , Gibson provided an excellent performance, Elliot & Pepper were also great 5 stars
8/07/02 Obi Wan Bring me the DVD copy w/plenty of goodies!! 5 stars
8/04/02 Michael Macias best war fim i ever saw 5 stars
8/01/02 loaded1200 Good Movie! 5 stars
7/04/02 KMG I like Mel. I don't like post-Patriot sugar-ass lets have 20 kids Mel. 3 stars
6/07/02 Allison Lafferty Poignant account of angst, grief, and terror of Vietnam War with fairness to all. 5 stars
5/21/02 Shrike Black Hawk Down doesn't have to worry about this stealing its thunder 3 stars
4/30/02 Sharron Great depiction of a true story. Pearl Harbor was ruined by a script rewrite,not R Wallace. 5 stars
4/29/02 Babybelle A moving and well performed story based on fact. Mel Rocks!! 5 stars
4/27/02 Gremlin Up there with platoon and Apocolapse Now. 5 stars
4/26/02 Joe Potvin It's all true. Hal Moore and Joe are just like that. Mel and Sam-You got it right. 5 stars
4/22/02 tom cruz fuc..... Mel. Remember US came with no reasons. Not worth fuc....$ 1 stars
4/17/02 John Garceau Powerful and emotional movie for those who know about Nam. Everything is true read the book 5 stars
4/15/02 John Wilkinson fantastic 5 stars
4/13/02 Don Norman Originally shows both sides without demonizing either. Honor and reality. 5 stars
4/10/02 Kelly Mears Damned good movie. Respected by the people that were portrayed in the movie. 4 stars
4/05/02 Scott Sumner Col. Moore, although a bonafide brave solider, should pull Mel's mouth out of his ass...... 3 stars
4/05/02 Obi Wan Really liked the film but I thought it should have more gore and war! 4 stars
3/30/02 Stuvaustin I was actually pretty dissapointed especially since I love war movies 3 stars
3/21/02 J.N. DeSantis You had to be there and return to understand 5 stars
3/21/02 The Man Not as good as most Vietnam movies, but still a valid entry, save for 2 VERY POOR scenes. 3 stars
3/12/02 spaceworm More to it than BLACK HAWK, and just as loud. 4 stars
3/12/02 Gavin M. Great Soundtrack, very intense, you get what you went for. 5 stars
3/10/02 sean horan Brilliant cinematography, unique point of view, up-close and personal combat and melodrama. 5 stars
3/10/02 Chris K. This film is directed by Randall Walace, the same dick that wrote PEARL HARBOR! Oh well. 1 stars
3/09/02 Russell L. Ross Moore, Galloway didnt get it right either 1 stars
3/09/02 Jeff Sappy, rah-rah Patriotism almost as freaky as Madeleine Stowe's new lips 3 stars
3/08/02 Obi Wan Powerful, Randall and Mel do it again!! A DVD Must Have!! 5 stars
3/07/02 Weird Andy The battle scenes are intense, but the melodrama(esp. the officers' wives stuff)is boring 3 stars
3/06/02 FriscoJohn One of the best of the current crop. 4 stars
3/05/02 Fenian One of the best war movies I've ever seen. 5 stars
3/05/02 Glenn Louderback riviting 5 stars
3/05/02 SablKnight One music-and-tinkling-shell-casings battle scene too many for my tastes. 3 stars
3/05/02 Todd Thank god those old war movies are dead and gone. 5 stars
3/04/02 G-Man Erik had to have his parents tuck him in after he saw it. 5 stars
3/04/02 NiceGlamourShotErik One of the Best War movies in the past 20 years 5 stars
3/04/02 StudMaster War movie fans will love it and most chicks will probably dig Mel and the family story. 5 stars
3/04/02 David Addison It is no surprise that Erik would sit through this movie and think about bowel movements. 5 stars
3/04/02 Patti Charron Erik the Movieman needs to grow up. 5 stars
3/04/02 Jesus Christ I condemn war. 1 stars
3/03/02 Dingus The Greatest War movie since the remake of Planet of the Apes 1 stars
3/03/02 dan a very accurate and realistic portrayal of the 1st Cavalry Division's baptism by fire 4 stars
3/02/02 Chris K. This is directed by Randall Walace, the same bastard who wrote PEARL HARBOR! Wow! 1 stars
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  01-Mar-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Randall Wallace

Written by
  Randall Wallace

  Mel Gibson
  Madeline Stowe
  Greg Kinnear
  Barry Pepper
  Sam Elliot
  Keri Russell

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