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When We Were Soldiers  

Mel Gibson, Chris Klein, Madeline Stowe, Sam Elliott and Greg Kinnear.
Directed by Randall Wallace

In the years since the completion of the Vietnam War there have been many books and movies made on the experiences of our men and women in this horrific conflict. Classic films such as Oliver Stone’s “Born on the 4th of July”, and “Platoon” took a look at the conflict through the eyes of an individual and those around him, and illustrated how the war changed them. The late Stanley Kubrick gave audiences a gripping and unforgettable look at Marine training in “Full Metal Jacket”, but no matter how many times a film is set in Vietnam, it is often compared to the classic “Apocalypse Now” as that film set the standard for Vietnam movies with its diverse characters and dramatic scenes.

Mel Gibson is no stranger to war movies as his recent turn in “The Patriot”, was a grand epic about Americas struggle for independence. In the new film “We Were Soldiers”, Gibson plays real life hero Lt Colonel Hal Moore. A soldier who is given the task of training platoons in the new armored Calvary of mobile infantry. His men will be the first to use helicopters to enter combat zones and engage the enemy. With the crisis in Vietnam heating up, Moore understands that it is only a matter of time before his unit will be called into action, and struggles with the notion of not having combat ready troops in time to do the missions they are asked to undertake. A keen student of history, Moore realizes that he will be pitted against a determined enemy with twenty years of combat experience who are fighting on their own soil. Moore is also a content family man and a devote Catholic who loves his wife Julie (Madeline Stowe), and his children. The call to deploy does arrive and Moore is asked to lead 350 men in a retaliation strike against a recent raid by the Viet Cong. Smelling a trap, Moore leads his men in with the promise that he will be the first to enter the field of battle, the last to leave, and that no soldier living or dead will be left behind. The enemy is engaged and Moore and his troops soon find themselves against a well-fortified force of nearly 4000 enemy troops. What follows is a three-day battle of what was to be known as the Valley of Death and how Moore and his men fared against overwhelming odds. The film gives a dynamic look at the battle as the only diversions from the action are when the scene switches to the enemy side where we see their strategy and thoughts on the conflict as well as back in the states where Julie Moore has taken up the task of delivering the telegrams to wives informing them that there husbands have been lost in battle. Based on the book We Were Soldiers Once and Young by Joe Galloway (who is played by Barry Pepper in the film), and the now retired General Moore, Soldiers does not glorify war, and instead paints the conflict in the most basic of human terms, there is some graphic violence in the film but it is factual and never gratuitous. The dedication, fear, loyalty, and loss, of troops on both sides are well illustrated and the film is informative without being preachy or grandstanding. The supporting cast is excellent and Sam Elliott and Greg Kinnear do fantastic work in support of Gibson. Gibson is a marvel as his portrayal of Moore is intense, but never seems forced or out of character for the man he is portraying. He is cool under fire, yet cares for every man under his command, and is not above getting to know his men on a personal level as well as offering words of support and gratitude in the midst of a pitched battle. I found the pacing of the film to be appropriate to the story as director Randall Wallace knows when to hit the accelerator and when to slow things down for the right emotional impact without being overly sappy. The only negative I had with the film was the role of Lt. Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein), who I felt was a little unfinished after being established early in the film and sharing a great chapel scene with Moore where they discuss Gods view of the conflict and the fine line of being a soldier and a father. Nevertheless, the film is a well-crafted movie that shows one again that Gibson is a talented actor who has an uncanny eye for projects and has once again given audiences a winner.

4 out of 5

Gareth Von Kallenbach

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