Men of Honor

dir George Tillman Jr
scr Scott Marshall Smith
with Cuba Gooding Jr, Robert DeNiro, Michael Rapaport, David Conrad, Charlize Theron, Aunjanue Ellis, Hal Holbrook, Powers Boothe, David Keith, Holt McCallany, Joshua Leonard, Dennis Troutman
release US 10.Nov.00; UK 30.Mar.01
Fox 00/US 2h08 2 out of 5 stars
Based on the true story of Carl Beashear, the first black US Navy diver, Men of Honor has a terrific story to tell ... and yet the Hollywood Movie Machine bloats it into a maudlin, overdramatic, sentimentalised mess. Gooding stars as Brashear, a feisty young man dead set on success, no matter what he's doing. He joins the Navy in the late 1940s and then battles hard knocks and institutionalised racism all the way into the '60s. But he makes it into diver training, and with the help of gruff-but-loveable instructor Billy Sunday (DeNiro) overcomes the odds to become the best of the best.

Apparently the filmmakers didn't think the story was inspiring enough, so they crank up the histrionics with Sunday's alcoholism and loyal-but-tragic wife (Theron), Brashear's equally neglected--and equally faithful--spouse (Ellis), a stuttering pal (Rapaport), a doddering and racist commander (Holbrook) and, most irritatingly, a villainous officer (Conrad) who dogs Brashear throughout his career. Tillman directs it efficiently in that anonymous, flawless Hollywood style, and all of the actors slip into worthy acting mode with glistening cheeks and soulful eyes--except DeNiro, who somehow salvages his dignity with an edgy, fun performance. But the worst thing is the way the script saps Brashear's life of meaning--he seems to be motivated only by some fragmented memory of his father and a battered homemade radio, both of which are cinematic creations bereft of any true significance. This is a real shame, since Brashear's story is definitely worth telling. It's actually a terrifically inspiring journey that deserves a far better film than this one.
themes, violence, language cert 15 2.Feb.01

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"This movie is based on a true story of the first African-American Navy diver. Gooding stars, and I recently read an interview with him saying he liked this role because it showed how an African-American man was confronted with segregation and instead of resorting to violence rose above it. And he did. This is a well-acted, inspiring movie. He never gave up. DeNiro plays the sergeant who at first does not want him as a diver, then grudgingly passes him and comes to respect him. I liked this movie and hope more people see it. It takes a man of honor to handle the situation this way." --Laurie T, Minneapolis.

"It's been awhile since a film's dialogue has made me (and the audience) wince - DeNiro's racist verbal attacks on his black recruit were entirely in keeping with the late 1940s setting, DeNiro really gets to play a nasty piece of work and he does it excellently. Real life creates a harsher environment than Holluwood could ever dream up. Of course it all turns out OK in the end with some gripping stuff along the way. I like biopics as a style and this one works for me. I find Carl Brashear's character a litle too bland, but Gooding does his usual outstanding job. So not a classic but a pretty good night at the movies." --Matt Dowson, Yorkshire 16.Mar.01

2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall