We Were Soldiers
On the march. Klein leads his troops into battle...
dir-scr Randall Wallace
with Mel Gibson, Barry Pepper, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, Ryan Hurst, Don Duong, Marc Blucas, Clark Gregg, Josh Daugherty
release US 1.Mar.02; UK 8.Mar.02
02/US 2h15

3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
father husband brother son Mel Gibson goes to war once again in this rousing battle drama directed by Braveheart/Pearl Harbor writer Randall Wallace. It's a very well-made film, full of powerful moments ... and it simply does not know where to stop to leave that power intact. Lt Col Hal Moore (Gibson) is a happy family man--loving wife (Stowe) and five (count 'em!) kids. But war is brewing in Southeast Asia, and in late 1964 his battalion is sent into the first major conflict of the Vietnam War. It's pretty much pure carnage as the North Vietnamese soldiers surround these young soldiers, surprising them with their efficient battle methods. But Moore vows to be the first one on the battlefield ... and the last one off it.

Yes, it's all very heroic and patriotic, and Mel strides around looking eerily like John Wayne, shouting orders and caring deeply for his boys! This rah-rah schmaltz undermines the film badly, as every moment of real power is followed by a completely unnecessary sequence pounding it in as if we couldn't have understood on our own. This is especially bad as the end approaches and we get scene after scene of corny flag waving and heavy-handed foreshadowing of what is to come. There is also a serious point of view problem, as the film continually shifts between the Americans, the Viet Kong and the wives back home--all of this is good stuff, but it eliminates a perspective through which we can experience the event ourselves. Furthermore, our emotional involvement is very limited since, besides Moore, we're only introduced to four other soldiers: Elliott's bitter veteran, Kinnear's ace pilot, Klein's all-American officer and, most effectively, Pepper's gobsmacked photojournalist. The performances are all excellent, but as the story progresses it's clear that Pepper's character is the film's heart and soul--the story should have been told through his eyes, as he is our representative on the field, and his experiences are by far the most moving. Still, the effects and camera work are terrific as the battle goes on and on--and gets increasingly gruesome and horrific. And Wallace has some astonishing directoral tricks up his sleeve. If only he had trusted the audience just a little bit.
themes, strong violence, language cert 15 6.Feb.02

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... "A fine adaptation of a fine book. A must-see for any movie or history buff. Some rather cheesy lines, but the delivery of these lines is played straight and honest. Excellent work by all. Black Hawk Down is a story to be read whereas We Were Soldiers is a story to be seen, then read." --Chris Giffin, Oklahoma City 15.Feb.02 father husband brother son

"This film is unlike any Vietnam War film you have seen to date. The viewer's not treated to a brooding racial strife, drug culture or the sanctimonious piety of an anti-war movement. It's an epic struggle of young, scared men fighting to live to see another day. A struggle that had their fullest attention from the moment their boots hit the tall grass and heat of the Ia Drang Valley. Gibson gives a very steady and reserved portrayal of Lt Col Moore. His chief rock of support in the film is much like the real-life roles as well. It falls to the Battalion Sergeant Major, played to pure steel by Sam Elliott. The film works on several other levels as well. Randall Wallace has touched on many of the things that were wrong with that conflict - as Moore would be only too willing to agree, 'You cannot manage men in combat; they must be led.' The film is also brutally unrelenting in its portrayal of combat. The fight in the Ia Drang was up close and personal. Several times units had to go hand-to-hand with their enemies in a dance of fists, bayonets and bludgeoning rifle blows. It's not a film for the faint of heart." --Bob McMahon, Hillsborough, New Jersey 15.Feb.02

As the neice (by marriage) of Timothy Morgan Blake, 21st Artillery, 1st Calvary Division, I was very pleased with the movie. My mother-in-law is Timothy's sister and has long since wondered exactly what happened to him. Through the years, it has been an ache in her to find out what medals he had, as they were lost, and what he actually did. Imagine our surprise when watching this movie and seeing the credits at the end listing Tim's name. My husband and I were flabbergasted. We immediately ran to his mother's and allowed her to watch it. At the end, she said, 'Well, at least I know,' with tears running down her face. It takes a very powerful actor to move people. To entertain is one thing, but to move people is on a whole different level. I wish only to be able to thank Mr Gibson, Mr Elliott and all of the other wonderful cast for bringing a peace and for portraying the story with such truthfulness, instead of grandeur." --Chellie Elliott, Charleston WV `4.Aug.03

2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall