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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 Andrew Howe

"What is Randall Wallace good for? Absolutely nothing."
3 stars

“War - what is it good for? ” Billy Bragg reckons it’s good for business, and while he was taking a shot at corporate Britain he could just as easily have been talking about the film industry. Human interest, gut-punch violence, heroism and nobility in the face of certain death - battlegrounds are custom-made for the big-screen treatment, and the memoirs of those who fought in Vietnam have sparked their share of celluloid adaptations.

One might question, however, whether there’s anything left to say that hasn’t already been said. Platoon and Full Metal Jacket wrote the book on squad-based combat, Apocalypse Now explored the darkness at the heart of the human condition and The Deer Hunter canvassed the mental anguish suffered by returning veterans. We Were Soldiers splits the difference by presenting us with an extended pitched battle, while taking the time to examine the impact of the conflict on the wives of the combatants. There’s almost nothing we haven’t seen before, but in the heat of the battle boredom is never an option. It’s only when it’s over that you’ll begin to wonder what the point was, for the film amounts to little more than a breathtaking but ultimately insubstantial fireworks display.

Mel Gibson is Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, a paragon of patriarchal values who heads off to the Ia Drang Valley to fight the good fight in the early stages of the Vietnam War. The opening 45 minutes sets up the characters, which include (but are by no means limited to) the following stereotypes: Sergeant Major Plumley (Sam Elliot), a grizzled veteran and all-round ornery cuss who looks like he might have seen action at the Alamo; Lieutenant Geoghegan (Chris Klein), a young gun who fights with a bible in one hand and a picture of his pregnant wife in the other; Sergeant Ernie Savage (Ryan Hurst), an easygoing kid who finds unexpected reserves of inner strength when he needs it the most; and Major Crandall (Greg Kinnear), the best damn ‘copter pilot in the land.

In 1965 nobody knew the Viet Cong would prove to be such tenacious opponents, and in a scene reminiscent of the botched invasion from Starship Troopers the American troops land in a field and charge off into the jungle to flush out the enemy. Ninety minutes later the smoke clears, both sides count the cost, and the film ends.

Prior to June 2001 Randall Wallace commanded a certain measure of respect in the industry, but that was before Pearl Harbor led every right-thinking person to question his credentials. Having read his original screenplay for Braveheart, I can vouch for the fact that Gibson’s on-set revision had a great deal to do with the success of that particular film – most of the best lines are absent from Wallace’s version, and in their place you’ll find the kind of superfluous and hackneyed dialogue that’s become his trademark. Moreover, the penchant for platitudes, mawkish sentimentality and sledgehammer moralising he unleashed on Pearl Harbor continues unabated in his latest effort, which is why you’ll be asked to endure the following:

- Wallace wants us to know that Moore was a loving family man. Whether this adds anything to the narrative is open to debate, but Wallace’s decision to use My Three Sons as his reference point results in a nauseating depiction of Moore’s improbably perfect domestic life (“Daddy, what’s war?”, asks his impossibly cute daughter. Gibson proceeds to explain it in terms a five year-old can understand, which is indicative of Wallace’s approach to any important issue he feels compelled to comment upon.)

- Wallace wants us to know that war is just as hard on those left behind, so he scripted a major role for Moore’s wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe, doing her best Cher impersonation). We have, however, seen the “arrival of the telegram on the doorstep” scene many times before, which is practically all there is to this particular subplot. Julie is also strangely unsympathetic – she sets herself up as the Angel of Death by delivering the telegrams, but her obvious relief at not seeing her name on any of them undermines what little compassion her act of charity manages to muster.

- Wallace wants us to know that (i) the colour of your skin doesn’t matter to your brothers in arms; and (ii) Moore is a tough hombre who genuinely cares about his men. We know this because Gibson delivers a speech to that effect before everyone ships out, which is twice as long as his call to arms at the Battle of Stirling and approximately half as inspiring.

- Wallace wants us to know that Moore is the focal point of the film, which is why he wastes most of the opening sequence depicting Moore’s family life when he should have been building the supporting characters. If we’re going to watch these guys engage in mortal combat for an hour-and-a-half we need to develop a stake in their survival, and Wallace’s refusal to allow us to do so undermines one of his primary messages (which, according to the tagline, is “Father, husband, brother – no man is just a soldier”).

Even that’s not the end of it. With all due respect to the real-life Mr. Moore, Wallace’s decision to depict this undeniably courageous soul as a larger-than-life hero derails any possibility of viewer identification. He’s not Captain Willard, and he’s certainly not Sergeant Elias - he’s John Wayne, the kind of steel-plated superman who leads from the front and wouldn’t dream of ducking for cover. Since the opening credits have informed us that the film is based on Moore’s memoirs we’ve got a pretty good idea he makes it through unscathed, and the absence of any uncertainty over his fate removes the only aspect of the character that might have aroused a measure of interest.

The cast do the best they can with their underwritten characters – Gibson is always watchable, but he’s never afforded the opportunity to display the emotional range that made his performance in Braveheart (and, to a lesser extent, The Patriot) so memorable. Elliot is fine in a role that’s tailor-made for his talents, Klein goes some of the way towards atoning for Rollerball, and Barry Pepper shows up late in the piece to work on his sensitive side. The highlights, however, are Kinnear, who delivers the latest in a string of personable performances, and Hurst, who appears destined for great things (he nearly stole Remember the Titans from Denzel Washington, and I would have gladly cut Gibson’s screen time to give him a little more room to move).

Wallace’s efforts in the director’s chair are a vast improvement on his work at the typewriter, and the choreography of the battle sequences belies his relative inexperience. He does, however, make one major blunder – towards the end he presents us with a montage of stills taken by Pepper’s photographer, which might have been a poignant sequence if not for his inexplicable decision to superimpose shots of Pepper snapping away left, right and centre (you’ll understand when you see it – the effect is idiotic). You might also be surprised to hear that the soundtrack eschews the usual hits of the 60’s in favour of an operatic score, but it meshes with the onscreen action surprisingly well (a mournful dirge is put to good use at a couple of key points in the film).

All of which would seem to mark We Were Soldiers as an abject failure. However, there’s still the fireworks to consider, and it’s here the film makes its mark. Black Hawk Down exhibited a similar disdain for short, sharp firefights, choosing instead to drop us into the thick of the action and wear us down with the sheer ferocity of the extended assault. Apart from a couple of cuts to the events back home there’s no respite for the duration, and the cumulative effect of the carnage is shattering. Gut-churning massacres, hand-to-hand combat, napalm strikes, death-or-glory charges, heroic last stands – even if you don’t care about the characters it’s impossible not to identify with the situation, and the weight of wasted life is enough to make even the most militant souls decry the madness of war.

Wallace also deserves praise for attempting to humanise the opposition. It only amounts to a couple of scenes, but it’s rare for the Viet Cong to be painted as anything other than faceless killing machines, and a poignant sequence where the wife of a Vietnamese soldier mourns her loss is no less affecting for being as subtle as a kick in the teeth.

Despite the odd moment of inspiration, the time has come for Wallace to take a good, hard look at himself, since over the last twelve months he’s managed to scuttle two major releases that didn’t want for potential. Both were saved from the trash can by bone-rattling action sequences, but the same could be said of Commando, and if Wallace is incapable of offering anything more then perhaps it’s time he made the move to low-budget action flicks before he wastes any more time and money.

Bragg once said that Margaret Thatcher was an accident waiting to happen - she might have tried to ruin a country, but Wallace is demolishing history. Let’s just hope somebody notices before it’s too late.

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originally posted: 04/28/02 12:21:29
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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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