We Were Soldiers

This day’s presentation takes us back to a piece of war history from 2002. We Were Soldiers follows Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) into the ferocious chaos of the Battle of la Drang, the U.S. military’s first major battle of the Vietnam War.

Behold: Mel Gibson's Face

It is a distinctly post-Vietnam era Vietnam War movie, and it is evident in its tone. Decades ago, we were given movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket, notable for their chillingly bleak and haunting looks at the war, as well as their investigation of morality and the war’s effects on the human psyche (See, HOLY SHIT WAR SUCKS). We Were Soldiers seems to do an about face in the other direction. While many scenes are emotional, powerful, and well-done, the moral implications have left us. As have the questions.

The tragedy of the American GIs deaths are somewhat offset by several unrealistic moments, such as a scene on “the Knoll” when an American officer breathes his last, imparting on the audience the unlikely final words: “I’m glad I died for my country.” It is unflinchingly patriotic in tone, and it is all about war itself. The action of the guns blazing. The intensity of the bombs bursting. Tears for the fallen. A noble brotherhood of soldiers and all that. But it builds this action by lacking many of the deeper layers of some of its predecessors.

However, for all the bravado, it is noticeably fair in its portrayal of all sides. Though it stirs the patriotic, it does not discriminate against the Vietcong. It does not offer up to us the dark, inscrutable foe—nameless and barbaric. We spend time with them as well, and we are given faces, and respect. They are the brutal and endless waves, but see enough of them that we are forced to remember that these men—these are humans, too. They bleed, they die, they fight for a cause—and they have loved ones waiting for them, as sure as any American.

I should also note the movie’s curious parallel to Custer’s last stand and the comparison of the North Vietnamese to the Native American warriors of old. Interesting take.

And the soundtrack is beautifully done. The musical score is powerful and well-executed. In particular a song heard time and again: “Sgt. MacKenzie,” had become somewhat addictive to me. Cinematography is flawless. The imagery, though brutal, disgusting, and explosive, is beautiful—the ravages of war contrasted by the lush majesty of the landscape. The battle scenes are powerfully composed, and the action will continuously draw you in. There is not one point you will feel the movie slowing.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

~ by Chris G. on February 11, 2010.

One Response to “We Were Soldiers”

  1. […] The story focuses on an army bomb squad, and chiefly around “new guy” William James (Jeremy Renner). The characters are all-important to the film, as it is their development in this sandy hell and the effect it has on them, that brings it to life. They are very human—not cardboard military cutouts, as many movies make (See We Were Soldiers). […]

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