WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002)
Reviews
With the exception of a few reviewers, the commentary on We Were Soldiers is relatively static across the board.  As a group, the reviewers were most impressed with Wallace's careful decision to capture the camaraderie of the men, their true love and respect for each other, and the importance of their families back home.  Vietnam films of the past had either failed to, or decided not to ever include these positive attitudes in their usually depressing and politicized films.  The reviewing community lauded the artistry and meticulous direction of the battle scenes.  Although the reviews were never focused on the acting itself, every reviewer commented on the flawless cast and their ability to turn this film into an epic, rather than an "actor's movie."  Though most reviewers concurred on the overall cliched dialogue of the homefront scenes, none of them wished them deleted from the film, perhaps just better attention paid to the "cheesiness" of some of these scenes.  As a whole, reviewers revered Wallace and his film and were moved by the message of love and brotherhood the film so carefully embodied.

Ansen, David.  "Braveheart of Darkness: Mel Gibson Wages War in the Killing Fields of Vietnam."  Newsweek 11 March 2002: 65.

Ansen regards this film "ultimately a powerful and moving experience."  In agreement with many of the reviewers, he comments on the "cliched" first few scenes with his youngest daughter in which she asks him, "What is war daddy?"  On the other hand, Ansen feels that once the film's battle scenes begin to unravel on the screen, Randall Wallace can do no wrong.  Ansen is most impressed by Wallace's ability to illustrate to the audience "the close-up chaos of war without losing the larger, strategic picture."  This gift that Wallace possesses also allows us to view the overwhelming sense of camaraderie between the men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry.  This esprit de corps within the unit allows the movie to sidestep the controversial issue of why we were in Vietnam in the first place -- because it didn't matter to the men, "In the end we fought for each other, we didn't fight for flag or country."

Carr, Jay.  "A Vietnam War Hero You Can Believe In, Gibson's Soldiers Salutes Bravery."  Boston Globe 1 March 2002: D1.

Carr states that We Were Soldiers is able to portray perfectly the most intrinsic value of any soldier, that of faith in his fellow soldier, love for his unit, and an overwhelming sense of camaraderie for the men who fight around him.  "In its heart," Carr states, "it's a true combatants' film in that it suggest that the grunts' natural enemies are politicians and the military high-command."  In agreement with all of the reviewers of We Were Soldiers, Carr feels that the battle scenes are filmed almost perfectly.  They are gut-wrenching and powerful, so powerful you have to look away from the screen at times.  Carr, too, appreciated the home-front scenes but thought that Moore was heroic enough that the audience didn't need his "I'm a great father too" scenes thrown in the film.  The portrayal of the Army wives, however, was a beautiful touch.

Doherty, Tom.  "The New War Movies as Moral Rearmament: Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers."  Cineaste 27.3 (2002): 4-8.

Doherty links the critical acclaim and public acceptance of these recent war dramas to the change in American attitudes and ideals regarding public service in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.  He uses a Rudyard Kipling quote to illustrate this sudden change in attitude: "It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that / an'' 'Chuck him, out, the brute! /  But it's Savior of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot."  He enjoys the departure from the Jimi Hendrix, drug-focused Vietnam films such as Full Metal Jacket and Platoon.  No man shoots his brother in the back, but rather protects him as if he were family.  Doherty captures the essence of the new era of war films in this quote: "The pagan oaths and blood rituals in both films preach the gospel of the oldest war story, older than Hollywood, older than Homer: that war is not hell but a place called heaven, far nobler than the candy-ass homefront, a celestial arena for true glory and mystical brotherhood."

Harrison, Eric.  "Talented Filmmakers Fail to Give Soldiers the Power It Deserves." Houston Chronicle 1 March 2002: 1.

Harrison is one of the few reviewers who had a genuine distaste for the film itself.  Although he acknowledges the film's ability to draw many a tear from the audience, he feels that Wallace made many clumsy mistakes during the direction of this film.  Harrison asserts that the film overall is predictable and manipulative.  The dialogue was clichéd, and the message was cheesy.  Harrison feels that the characterization was flawed enough that the audience wouldn't care about the characters when they died.  He applauded the portrayal of the press in the film, but that was the extent of his compliments.

Honeycutt, Kirk.  "Movie Review, We Were Soldiers." Associated Press  25 February 2002.

Honeycutt is awed at the risk Wallace took when making this film.  The successful Vietnam films of the past had relied on the exact opposite messages that We Were Soldiers set out to illustrate.  The average Vietnam film displayed "cynical and highly politicized attitudes toward war and the men who fought it."  This film focused on the importance of the brotherhood of men and the concern of their spouses and families back home.  Honeycutt applauds Wallace for capturing the post-September 11th mood of the nation -- our resurgence in appreciation of our nation's true heroes.  Rather than taking us straight to the heart of battle, We Were Soldiers takes its time delivering us into the killing and destruction.  This allows us to put the lives of these men into perspective before the terror begins.

Newman, Richard J.  "It's Cool to be a Soldier Again."  U.S. News &World Report 11 March 2002: 65.

Newman reviewed this film in a most unique setting.  He watched the first showing of We Were Soldiers in a West Point theater, with, quote, the cast of characters.  The front row included none other that the authors of the book on which the film was based, General Hal Moore, and battlefield reporter, Joseph Galloway, and Mel Gibson who portrayed Moore in the film.  The rest of the audience was filled with the entire population of the United States Military Academy.  Newman and the audience alike were thoroughly impressed with the detailed and realistic battle scenes but, ironically enough, appreciated the home-front scenes the most.  These scenes took this film to a place that other Vietnam projects had never been, straight to the heart of the men -- their families.  The favorite scenes, however, were the simple ones between the young officer and Sergeant Major Plumley when the young man asks Plumley how his day is going and Plumley replies with a tongue and cheek, curse-word-filled reply.  Overall, Newman leaves us with three simple statements: "No stars hog the show.  There are no superfluous plot lines.  It's all about the unit, not the individual."

Schaller, Michael.  “We Were Soldiers.”  Journal of American History 89.3 (2002): 1173-74.

Schaller reviews the film with an understated but harshly sarcastic undertone.  Though he feels the film's home scenes pay homage to the unforgiving reality of the Army widow and home life, he believes the “history and politics of We Were Soldiers are, at best, obscure.”  Schaller refers to the much different war drama, Apocalypse Now, as a masterpiece -- this assertion almost serving as his one-sentence review.  As a historian he appreciated the parallels to Custer’s battles and at one point even points to a battle scene in the film where it almost looks as if Moore’s soldiers are hiding behind a circled wagon.  The film’s portrayal of the enemy, however, made this historian’s head spin.

Scott, A.O.  "Early Vietnam, Mission Murky."  New York Times  1 March 2002: 1.

Scott applauds this film for balancing the strange dichotomy of "the dreadful, unassuageable cruelty of warfare and the valor and decency of those who fight."  Few Vietnam-era films have been able to capture this essence of battle and war -- this inevitable double-edged sword.  This film is suprisingly not only a tribute to the men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary, but also the enemy it attempted to ambush, the Viet Cong.  Though Scott believes that the home scenes border on the edge of overstatement and cheesiness, he feels that this added touch of family life is an idea that Vietnam movies have side-stepped for years.  Overall, this heroic epic is not only well acted but well directed, especially the horrific but incredibly realistic battle scenes.

Young, Marlyn B.  "In the Combat Zone."  Radical History Review  85 (2003): 253-64.

In this thought-provoking review, Young takes the "brotherhood" theme of We Were Soldiers to a different level that most reviewers.  She states that the film departs from the "resentment of authority that the Vietnam movies of the 1908s expressed" and instead steers Americans in a direction that allows us to feel "proud" of the war.  "The pride," she believes, "derives from the demonstration of courage and the memory of suffering, irrespective of the cause in which the one is displayed and the other is endured."  If we allow ourselves to focus only on the "brotherhood" felt between the men who fought the battles, we will be able to forget about the tragedies and causes of the actual wars.  These films will allow "Hollywood and the government to kick the 'Vietnam syndrome.'"
 

Other Reviews:

Salier, Steve.  "Video of the Week: 'We Were Soldiers.' "  United Press International 16 August 2002.

Lemire, Christy.  "At the Movies, 'We Were Soldiers.'" Associated Press 26 February 2002.

Strickler, Jeff.  "Soldier of Misfortune."  Star Tribune 1 March 2002: 11E.

Feder, Don.  "Paying Tribute to Heroes: Hollywood's Vietnam Mythology Takes a U-Turn with 'We Were Soldiers.' "  Insight on the News  6 May 2002: 39.

Clark, Mike.  "We Were Soldiers Shows Us Brave Hearts." USA Today 1 March 2002: 10D.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2003 by Catherine Elizabeth Breckenridge, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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