One of those rare films that grabs you by the gut and never lets go, Men of Honor was inspired by the life of Carl Brasher (Cuba Gooding Jr.), an African American who dared to dream of becoming a U.S. Navy Master Diver. Despite a bigoted training officer (Robert DeNiro) and a tragic shipboard accident, Carl never gives up and achieves the impossible in an incredible finish that will leave you cheering.
Men of Honor presents a great role model for younger viewers, yet it's rated R due to abundant use of the F word. With appropriate discretion, parents should allow their preteen and teenaged children to see this rousing if altogether conventional biopic inspired by the life of Carl Brashear. Played with gravity and gumption by Cuba Gooding Jr., Brashear was the first African American to become a master diver in the U.S. Navy, despite the lingering effects of segregation, opposition from Navy brass, and the amputation of his left leg following a tragic on-duty accident. Robert De Niro adds marquee value and salty bluster as Billy Sunday, the drunken, redneck (and fictionalized) Master Chief who watches, with gradual admiration, as Brashear attains his ultimate goal through sheer force of will.
This is all quite uplifting on its surface, but in attempting to hit the requisite highlights of an inspiring biography, director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) reduces Brashear's achievement to a succession of clichés, forcing Gooding and De Niro to battle sentiment with their noteworthy performances. As Sunday's neglected wife, Charlize Theron is completely extraneous; Hal Holbrook's diving-school commander is a ranting caricature; and newcomer Aunjanue Ellis barely registers as Brashear's wife (in part because their obligatory romance is handled with an utter lack of finesse). There's no question that Brashear's efforts are heroic and worthy of recognition, so Men of Honor serves its basic purpose. Still, one can't help but wonder if Brashear's story would be even more impressive with a more authentic treatment. --Jeff Shannon