807 of 849 people found the following review helpful
I live with a Vietnam Vet who served in the late 1960s with 1st Cav. Medivac. During service he earned two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. Since WE WERE SOLDIERS concerns the 1st Cav., Randy wanted to see it. I reluctantly agreed; I am not partial to war films and I dislike Mel Gibson, and Randy is very hard on Vietnam War films. He dismisses PLATOON as a Hollywood 8x10 glossy; says APOCALYPSE NOW is an interesting movie that captures the paranoia, but all the technical details are wrong; and describes DEER HUNTER as excellent in its depiction of the strangeness of coming home but so full of plot holes that he can hardly endure it. And about one and all he says: "It wasn't like that."
He was silent through the film, and when we left the theatre I asked what he thought. He said, "They finally got it. That's what it was like. All the details are right. The actors were just like the men I knew. They looked like that and they talked like that. And the army wives too, they really were like that, at least every one I ever knew." The he was silent for a long time. At last he said, "You remember the scene where the guy tries to pick up a burn victim by the legs and all the skin slides off? Something like that happened to me once. It was at a helicopter crash. I went to pick him up and all the skin just slid right off. It looked just like that, too. I've never told any one about it."
In most respects WE WERE SOLDIERS is a war movie plain and simple. There are several moments when the film relates the war to the politics and social movements that swirled about it, and the near destruction of the 1st. Cav.'s 7th Battalion at Ia Drang clearly arises from the top brass' foolish decision to send the 7th into an obvious ambush--but the film is not so much interested in what was going on at home or at the army's top as it is in what was actually occurring on the ground. And in this it is extremely meticulous, detailed, and often horrifically successful. Neither Randy nor I--nor any one in the theatre I could see--was bored by or dismissive of the film. It grabs you and it grabs you hard, and I can easily say that it is one of the finest war movies I have ever seen, far superior to the likes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which seems quite tame in comparison.
Perhaps the single most impressive thing about the film is that it never casts its characters in a heroic light; they are simply soldiers who have been sent to do a job, and they do it knowing the risks, and they do it well in spite of the odds. Mel Gibson, although I generally despise him as both an actor and a human being, is very, very good as commanding officer Hal Moore, and he is equaled by Sam Elliot, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, and every other actor on the battlefield. The supporting female cast, seen early in the film and in shorter scenes showing the home front as the battle rages, is also particularly fine, with Julie Moore able to convey in glance what most actresses could not communicate in five pages of dialogue. The script, direction, cinematography, and special effects are sharp, fast, and possess a "you are there" quality that is very powerful.
Randy did have a criticism. "I don't think there would be time for casualty telegrams to actually get home while the battle was going on," he said. "After all, it only lasted three days." I myself had a criticism; there were points in the film when I found the use of a very modernistic, new-agey piece of music to be intrusive and out of place. And we both felt that a scene near the end of the movie, when a Vietnamese commander comments on the battle, to be improbable and faintly absurd. But these are nit-picky quibbles. WE WERE SOLDIERS is a damn fine movie. I'll give Randy, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the last word: "It may not be 'the' Vietnam movie. I don't think there could ever be 'the' Vietnam movie. But they get everything right. That's how it looked and sounded, and that's what I saw, and this is the best movie about Vietnam I've ever seen."
196 of 212 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2002
This is war and it truly is hell. Outnumbered on the field and backed by the politically driven Defense Department of the time, one battalion finds itself outnumbered and fighting for its life in the jungles of Vietnam.
A recent reviewer here mistook what this movie was about. It is NOT about America's war in Vietnam and all the ideology behind it. Its about a battle that occurred in the early years of that war between a new type of specialized fighting unit and a very determined enemy. America wanted to engage the enemy for the first time and this is the battle. The only politics involved here is the decision not to declare a National Emergency thus allowing the Army's most experienced soldiers to leave at the end of their enlistments, when ironically they were most needed. This movie is about a battalion commander training his unit, getting orders and shipping off to war. It also gives an excellent look at what the wives had to endure during that terrible time.
If one wants to look at the politics of this war, check out HBO's Path to War. Path to War shows the speech were LBJ sends this unit, the Air Cav, to Vietnam and the political reasoning behind it. It goes through LBJ's escalation and McNamera's change of heart on the winnablity of the war. Highly recommend it.
Anyway, in realism this ranks up there with Saving Private Ryan. By reading the book you get a much better grasp of what happened as well as the story not told of what happened at LZ Albany. That encounter was even a worse then what happened at LZ X-Ray.
All told this movie gives the feel of how horrible, horrowing and confusing first-hand combat can be. One decision can lead to winning the day, or as the movie shows, getting yourself cut off and most of your men killed. As for accuracy to what occurred, a group of soldiers that were there appeared on The History Channel's "Hollywood vs History" program and they concurred that it was 75-80% factual. 20 - 25% Hollywood. That's probably a good ratio indeed. Oh, and the little American Flag at the end was real, not Hollywood. And Sam Elliot deserves an Academy Award for his portrait of American Hero Sgt. Major Basil Plumley.
98 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2002
The title of the memoir that inspired this film, "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young," written by Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, says much about what this film ultimately conveys, as in a few words it addresses the state of being of the individuals, as well as the country, which so soon would be embroiled in one of the most controversial wars in the history of America. "We Were Soldiers," adapted for the screen and directed by Randall Wallace, is an uncompromising look at war and the commitment of those who wage it. It's a true story told realistically, and moreover, in terms that are humanistic rather than political, which succeeds in making it a riveting drama that is both absorbing and emotionally involving.
It's November, 1965; some 400 American troops-- the 7th Cavalry-- led by Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), take the field at LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, where they are quickly surrounded by over 2000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The ensuing battle will last for three days, and it marks the first major confrontation between America and North Vietnam, a battle from which many, on both sides, will not walk away; and on hand to record it as it happens, is reporter Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper). Going in, Moore knows what they are up against, and he promises his men two things: That he will be the first to set foot on the field and the last to leave it; and he will bring every man back home with him, alive or dead-- no one will be left behind. And it's a promise he keeps.
With this film, Wallace succeeds where two other, recent depictions of historic battles, "Pearl Harbor" and "Black Hawk Down"-- both good films in their own right-- failed; and it's because he managed to achieve just the right balance between the rendering of the battle itself and the human element involved. Of the two, "Pearl Harbor" is a close runner-up; the love story leading up to the battle was perhaps a bit extended, though ultimately engaging, whereas "Black Hawk Down" put the viewer in the battle, but was emotionally uninvolving. Here, Wallace not only gives you a battle that is brilliantly staged and presented, but before he takes you there he makes sure you know those who are about to die, and the loved ones they are leaving behind. War has many casualties, and they are not all on the battlefield; and beyond the realism of the fight, this is where Wallace makes his strongest statement, as during the three days of the battle he makes you privy to what the soldiers wives and families are going through at home, as well, waiting for the dreaded Western Union telegrams being delivered by cab drivers because the army wasn't prepared to deal with it.
The film is effective because Wallace keeps the human element at the heart of the story while he presents a perspective to which the audience can relate on very personal terms. In short, he gives you the "whole story," that enables you to know the horror of the firefight, as well as the throat clenching terror of seeing a yellow cab drive up to the front of your house, knowing full well what it means. This is a prime example of filmmaking and storytelling at it's best; and it's a commendable achievement by Wallace.
Gibson is perfectly cast and does an excellent job of bringing Hal Moore to life with a convincing portrayal of a man dedicated to both his family and his life as a soldier. Moore is focused and determined, and Gibson makes us realize that he knows the seriousness of what he is about to undertake, as well as the possible dire consequences thereof. The real strength of the character, however, is in the fact that he is not some kind of superhero out to win the war single-handedly, but a man who lives and loves and feels like anyone else, who bleeds when he is cut and hurts when he loses one of his men. A man who feels guilty that he is still living when his men die. And it's all captured in Gibson's strong and credible performance.
Besides Gibson, there are a number of exceptional supporting performances in this film, most notably, Madeleine Stowe, as Julie Moore, Hal's wife; Sam Elliott, as the gruff and seasoned veteran, Sergeant Major Basil Plumley; Greg Kinnear, as Major Bruce Crandall, the helicopter pilot with a memorable nickname; Chris Klein, as Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan, a new father to whom Moore gives a perspective on the war that enables him to face the job he must do; Keri Russell, as Barbara Geoghegan, the young wife and new mother who must watch her husband go off to fulfill his destiny; and Pepper, turning in an extremely affecting performance as Joe Galloway.
The supporting cast includes Ryan Hurst (Sergeant Savage), Mark McCracken (Ed "Too Tall" Freeman), Edwin Morrow (Willie), Jsu Garcia (Captain Nadal), Matt Mangum (Private Soprano), Brian Tee (Nakayama), Joseph Hieu (NVA Major), Don Duong (Ahn), Alan Dale (Westmoreland) and Simbi Khali (Alma). A film like this goes far in demonstrating the power and effectiveness of the medium that created it; it will never, however, enable us to understand war, because war-- in all it's myriad manifestations-- is beyond human comprehension. But it has always been with us and always will be, and a film that is well made and presented, a film like "We Were Soldiers," is important because it lends a needed perspective that allows us to take a step back and consider the magnitude of our endeavors in these regards, and the price we must pay for freedom. It leaves one with a sense of pride and patriotism, but tempered with a sobering concern for seeking altruistic alternatives. It may be only a dream; but hopefully, it's one that someday all the people of the world will share.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2002
I just came across this Reuters 11/11/02 news story concerning "We Were Soldiers" and "Green Dragon" and was shocked by what's happening to one of the actors. Thought I would share it with all viewers out there, whether you have watched or intend to watch those two films.
"A Vietnamese actor branded a traitor by the Hanoi government and placed under virtual house arrest for appearing in an American-made Vietnam War film has broken his silence to call the charges against him "ridiculous" and "cruel."
"Don Duong, who played a Vietnamese officer opposite Mel Gibson in "We Were Soldiers," and a refugee in the 2001 film "Green Dragon" opposite Patrick Swayze, defended his work in a letter released this week by family members in California. Duong's relatives have said the 45-year-old actor has been placed under house arrest and restricted from traveling and could face jail time. "We Were Soldiers" depicts the battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam's Central Highlands in 1965, in which men from the 7th Air Cavalry led by Lt. Col. Hal Moore, played by Gibson, overcame a more experienced and much larger North Vietnamese force."
"Gibson and others in Hollywood, including Duong's "Green Dragon" co-stars Patrick Swayze and Forest Whitaker, actor Harvey Keitel and "Soldiers" director Randall Wallace, have called for leniency in his case."
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2002
"Those of us who have seen war keep seeing it. In the silence of the night, we still hear the screams."
War is hell, and "We Were Soldiers" spends its entire relaying this brutal truth in a story that overflows with patriotic zeal, a convincing sense of chaos, and a harsh depiction of the physical reality of combat conditions. Like Ridley's Scott's "Black Hawk Down," released in the holiday stretch of 2001, writer/director Randall Wallace, in his directorial debut, is careful to remind us of the emotional impact of war rather than sacrificing it for effects and thrills.
It seems that Wallace has learned from previous misfires: the story, adapted from the novel by Lt. Col. Harold Moore and reporter Joseph Galloway, is everything that Wallace's previous script, "Pearl Harbor," was not. Beginning with the introductions to military life as seen through the eyes of various soldiers and officers, we are given a unique opportunity to become involved in their family lives, bearing witness to happier times before President Johnson orders reinforcements into Vietnam.
Mel Gibson is cast as Harold Moore, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, arriving on base with his wife, Julie (Madeleine Stowe), and five young children. Among those singled out by the story to provide emotional connections are young Lt. Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein) and his expecting wife, Barbara (Keri Russell), Maj. Bruce 'Snakeshit' Crandall (Greg Kinnear), who shows a great deal of devotion to duty, and Sgt-Maj. Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott), who exacts a brutish demeanor as a result of decades of wartime experience.
After a montage of tearful goodbyes that pull at the heartstrings with all their might, Wallace's film nosedives into the hellish combat of the Battle of Ia Drang, as Moore's soldiers are choppered in under heavy fire from the soldiers of the Viet Cong. After splitting into divisions, several men are surrounded, many of whom are seriously wounded, leading Moore to regroup and make attempts to rescue his entrapped soldiers, all the while battling forces surrounding his own.
These brilliantly photographed and acted scenes of battle are some of cinema's most memorable, charged with physical intensity that practically jolts the audience with each explosion and gunshot. Wallace brings the viewer into the experience rather than making him a sideline witness to it, wrapping us in a continuous onslaught of sensory perception, from startling images of bloodshed and mangled bodies, to the non-stop firing of machine guns and heavy artillery.
Accompanying such moments are a constant reminder of the emotional loss and grievances one goes through in times of war. We see young reporter Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) befriending a Japanese-American soldier in the middle of combat; ten minutes later, he's rushing towards a rescue chopper, his bloodied friend hanging loose in his arms. We see the tear-strained faces of wives informed of their lost husbands. We see these soldiers, once young, their innocence stripped from them as they stare into the eyes of the enemy, and instantly, the emotional magnitude of such an event becomes a stark reality.
But through it all, we see something richer, something well-defined, something forgotten in much of the modern war drivel that has graced the silver screen in years past. "We Were Soldiers" not only packs a physical and emotional punch, but brings to light an overwhelming aura of patriotism that is evident in the heroic acts of its characters, a sense of duty and devotion that makes the movie's dialogue ring true in every way, shape and form.
In playing Harold Moore, Mel Gibson recalls the glory and presence of his performance in "Braveheart;" his ability to juxtapose a stern demeanor with true, heartfelt displays of emotion hasn't lost its luster. The under-used Madeleine Stowe portrays Julie as a strong-willed military wife, while Keri Russell makes good use of her onscreen time. Each of the cast members who make up Moore's cavalry give heartfelt performances, most notably Barry Pepper as Galloway, whose narration bookends the film.
Movies like "We Were Soldiers" benefit from a connection to reality. The inclusion of characters Moore and Galloway serve to remind us of the factual basis for the stunning visual and emotional assault that conveys war and those affected by it. Wallace's film, while being a great tribute to those who fought for a war still misunderstood by many, is a patriotic display of courage, heroism, honor, and the knowledge that for those who have seen war, victory is bittersweet.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2002
After all those terrible years of "Deer Hunterish" drivel and "Apocalyptic" nonsense, Hollywood has finally, if (probably) temporarily, acceded to that fact that there is nothing glorious in the lot of the soldier other than the fraternity and special respect of a fellow soldier. With almost no nod to the steaming domestic politics of the 1960s other than those that directly affect the soldiers and their families (or any contemporary politics either - how refreshing), "We Were Soldiers" does a pretty fair and honest job of exposing both the rubies and the warts of a combat soldier's life. Thankfully, most of the gratuitous machoisms that the entertainment industry finds so entertaining in war flicks are absent.
The 1st Cav (the unit that is the subject of "We Were Soldiers") was the cutting edge of air-mobility for most of the Vietnam conflict - and, having served with the Gerry Owen bunch, they never seemed to loose their special can-do spirit. Much of what was learned about combat assaults, extractions, coordination of multiple levels of tac-air, aerial rocket artillery, hunter-killer teams and highly mobile ground based artillery, was pioneered in real-time by the Cav and quickly shared with the Infantry divisions who deployed to SE Asia in the next year or two. "We Were Solders" does a pretty good job of outlining the metamorphosis of 11th Air Assault at Fort Benning, Georgia into the 1st Cav, and it's subsequent deployment into Vietnam as America ramped up its ground efforts beyond the badly stretched Green Berets, and other military advisors. (BTW: The area, Kelly Hill, at Ft. Benning where the real 11th Air Assault was formed, was also the same area where much of John Wayne's "Green Beret" was filmed).
Special kudos also to "We Were Soldiers" for doing a pretty fair job of showing the sometimes harsh realities of the life of the military family (the rather sterile "Top Gun" is the only other recent film I can think of that has taken the time to try to explore the often forgotten heroes back home...). The military family, regardless of the rank of the soldier, seldom enjoys the predictable, geographically stable character of their civilian counter-parts. I remember those years well, and "We Were Soldiers" does a pretty good job of showing why military families get to know the local U-Haul dealer so well. More telling, of course, is the burdens, frustrations and pure fright that come with having a loved-one deployed. Those families didn't carry protest signs during the 60's, instead they carried letters to the mailbox - some will never know what a large part they played in keeping "their" soldier going.
Very good flick - gives a deeply personal, fairly genuine and somewhat painful look at the life of the American soldier.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2002
The power of good acting is real characters, and this film is reality. The expressions of excited young men going off to war, is stunningly altered into those bearing great shock, sorrow, and death. The women they left at home portray the qualities of 1965 ladies supportive of their husbands, no matter what.
Madeline Stowe, as Lt. Col. Hal Moore's wife, unites the wives left behind on the base. When the Army is unprepared to hand deliver telegrams informing the family that their soldier died, she takes over the task from the cab company that had been hired to do so. Each telegram is poignant, and I was reminded that every soldier, nurse, doctor, civilian, everyone has a story.
This one is about the American men who fought the first battle for God and country in Vietnam. The film begins with a disclaimer that it is not a reflection of personal or political ideologies. To me, that statement generally means the studio must distance itself to avoid potential ramifications about an unpopular war. Also, that I am about to see more truth than fiction, more questions than answers.
We Were Soldiers is intense, and I could only watch it in short segments. I needed time to think, to understand, and to witness the horror of battle. It is vivid -- when bullets hit bodies, blood spews from the wounds. Friendly fire kills, and is only called friendly because the man behind the bullet or bomb is in the same army. Napalm burns whomever is in the path, and flesh is charred to the bone. These are graphically displayed, and accounts for the "R" rating at the box office.
The reality, especially looking backwards at history and knowing these men and women came home without a hero's welcome, stirs me deeply. Honor and integrity are shown along with "battle scenes once seen that can never be forgotten" in words such as "I will be the first one on the field and the last one to leave, and I will leave no man behind."
Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) said he would never forgive himself because his men died and he did not in the La Drang Valley (the Valley of Death). It is clear that in the end, soldiers fought to save each other as they obeyed orders.
We Were Soldiers, The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Behind Enemy Lines, Blackhawk Down, Flight of the Intruder, Platoon, and so many others are very important films; they are about historical events. To me, the message about warriors is that on the field there are never winners, only survivors.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2002
Envision, if you will, a landing zone about the size of a football field. Think of Grass & Brush so thick when you go prone your world becomes the 12 inches you can see. This is the real thing!!
Lived and served with the survivors of this and the related battles at Ira Drang. Col Moore is the "Man" and the 'Troopers" All American.
Missed comments and inclusion of "Hard Core" Hero Rick Rescola who ended up with the Bugle and saved lives at Ira Drang and in New York on 9-11-01.
Hollywood note: "Bullets when they hit go in with little if any marks but coming out leave horrible wounds. When you see the film and the erupting impact of bullets just realize they may not be hitting from the front and you will feel accruacy in the film.
If you haven't seen this film, get the book, Read the book and taste the truth, then watch the film knowing it is as true as Hollywood can make it yet does not tell it all.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2002
I had the distinguished honor of going to the Atlanta premiere of this movie with a man who flew this same type of helicopters later in the war. The movie was excellent. It brought alive a very balanced mixture of emotions. It was painful, it was humorous. Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott brought to life the real life heros that have for so long had their story untold. I will say, though, it was very graphic in parts. It was, after all, a war movie. But the humor and the emotions you felt for the soldiers and their families evened it all out. I highly recommend this movie.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2002
I have just viewed the movie with my husband who will retire from the Army this year. "When We Were Soldiers" is by far the best picture made in this genre in our generation. When viewing the movie, you want to put down your popcorn, because it feels like you are eating in front of the Vietnam Wall. This picture is a memorial to all fighting men and their families left at home.
This movie does a wonderful job of showing all aspects of a war machine, showing all the support personel that it takes to carry on battle. It shows soldiers carrying out their mission with bravery and dedication without covering up the flaws of our country's policy making during that era.
Wonderful acting, technical advising, directing and of course writing.
The war gore was intense, but no more intense than movies like "Saving Private Ryan."
This movie is a must see for every American who is old enough to understand it. It will be a sure Academy Award Winner.
Congratulations to everyone associated with the picture and thank you!