We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers

*

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Has George Jr's arrival at The White House encouraged a revival of the John Wayne war picture? If this is anything to go by, the answer's loud and proud: "Yes, Siree!"

The conflict in Vietnam became one of the dirtiest in history and yet Randall Wallace portrays the American troops as paragons of virtue. He wrote the script, based on the memoir of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who appears in the film as a good Catholic, husband, father, soldier.

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The year is 1965. LBJ has stepped up America's contribution to those opposing the Communists. Moore (Mel Gibson) talks of spearheading "the new cavalry", which means a fleet of helicopter gun ships.

On their first assignment, 400 of his men are drawn into an ambush and trapped for many days in a forested mountain area, heavily outnumbered. Rather than retreat, or surrender, they stay and fight. We Were Soldiers is a celebration of the carnage.

A true fan is reluctant to give up on a movie and yet 20 minutes into this, the need to escape is almost irresistible. Wallace directs with such patronising reverence, it turns the stomach. Suburban home life with the army wives is like something out of I Love Lucy, except it's not funny. Madeleine Stowe, as Mrs Moore, has to look loving and/or stoic. She's done something to her face, a Liz Hurley lip job, which deserves the Michael Jackson Award for bravery.

Greg Kinnear plays a helicopter pilot. He is allowed five minutes of charm school banter and then is gone. More in tune with the mood of the moment is white-haired Sam Elliott, who takes the Gaby Hayes role to Wayne's sheriff, as Sgt Maj Plumley.

Scene: battle zone, day four.

Moore: "I wonder what was going through Custer's mind when he realised he had led his men into a slaughter."

Plumley: "Custer was a pussy."

The battle is either a bonanza of special effects, as bodies fly about and bullets tear through flesh, or completely confusing. The Vietcong, surprisingly smart in their uniforms, emerge from tunnels - weren't they dug much later, after American mass bombing? - and manage to advance through woods at night without making a sound. The Yanks shout into field telephones and shoot at anything that moves.

The Braveheart team of Gibson and Wallace is back and this time you know it's a mistake. You knew before, but there was so much hype about freedom and the Scottish National Party, perceptions became blurred. Gibson has a proper haircut this time. He gazes meaningfully into the smoked ruin of the battlefield and says, "I'll never forgive myself that my men died and I didn't." Wayne would have simply turned and walked away. Like you will.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2002
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We Were Soldiers packshot
Mel Gibson leads 400 men into a Vietnam ambush and fights his way out again
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Director: Randall Wallace

Writer: Randall Wallace, based on the book by Lt Gen Harold G Moore and Joseph Galloway

Starring: Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliot, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, Barry Pepper

Year: 2001

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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