Saw it again!!! One of the best "fight for what you believe' movies of all time. This was based on a true story and truly is one great movie with some fantastic roles from Cuba and De Niro.
The movie starts off by introducing Master Chief Leslie W. ("Billy") Sunday (Robert DeNiro), a US Navy Diver, who has recently gone AWOL. He is badly beaten and awaiting disciplinary actions. Sunday and several other Navy members watch TV coverage of an ongoing salvage operation, when Sunday recognizes a familiar face on the screen. One of the other sailors makes some crude racist jokes, Sunday attacks him and applies a choke hold.
We then flash back about 25 years, where a young African-American boy named Carl Braschear (Chris Warren Jr.) is watching his father Mac (Carl Lumbly) work the plow on their farm. Carl wants to quit school so that he will be able to help work and then prevent the farm from financial ruin. Mac is dead-set against his son being "like him" and stuck working on a farm, but he allows Carl to help.
Time passes quickly and a grown-up Carl (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is leaving town to join the Navy. Mac gives his son a custom-built portable radio as a memento of home, and tells Carl to be the best, even if it means breaking the rules.
Carl winds up working in the kitchens on the USS Hoist in the South Pacific. He and the other black officers joke about the so-called "bright future" the Navy promised them. Their superior points out that black men in the US Navy have only 3 career choices- cook, officer's valet or "get the f*ck out of the Navy."
Afterwards, Carl and his friends go up on deck where the white officers are swimming (the black crew members are assigned a specific day when they can swim). Carl, tired and hot, decides to jump in the water. The white officers try and chase him down, but Carl out-swims all of them.
Carl's actions get him thrown in the brig. The ships' captain meets with Carl and, impressed with the boy's speed, decides to transfer Carl to the search & rescue swimmers, a group assigned to rescue anyone who falls overboard on ship.
A few days later, Carl is writing a letter home to his parents when the ship is rocked by an apparent crash. Their mail chopper has accidentally gone down in the ocean. Carl assists the others on deck in raising a Navy Diver from the sea floor with the wounded pilot. The Diver is Master Chief Sunday. Since Sunday is now back up on deck, regulations state that he must now undergo decompression. As the next diver is lowered, an accident with the winch severs the diver's air hose. Chief Sunday prepares to do a dangerous "bounce dive" to rescue his fallen ally. One officer, Lt. Cmdr Hanks (David Conrad) orders Sunday not to go, but Sunday disobeys and jumps off ship.
Later in the hospital, we see that Chief Sunday was indeed able to save the other diver, but doctors find that he has sustained a severe embolism in both lungs. This condition disqualifies Sunday from any more diving. Sunday throws a fit, destroying some equipment in the hospital upon hearing the news. Carl, having seen Sunday's actions as heroic, is inspired and vows to become a Navy Master Diver.
Two years later, Carl is reporting for Diving School. After a tense confrontation with Chief Sunday, he is allowed in. While most other recruits are revolted by the thought of sharing their bunk with a Negro, one Navy candidate- Snowhill (Michael Rapaport) attempts to befriend Carl. Starting that night, Carl and Snowhill are both subjected to severe hazing and intense training by Sunday. Before long, Sunday kicks Snowhill out of the program.
Despite the harsh treatments, Carl performs admirably in his training, assembling machinery and adapting to the diving suit with much greater results than a large number of his classmates. Unfortunately, Carl is falling behind in the academic requirements-scoring only a 37 on his first exam. If he fails again, Carl will be kicked out of the program.
One weekend, on leave, Carl comes to a library in the hopes of getting a tutor to help him. He meets a young woman named Jo (Aunjanue Ellis) who is studying medicine. She thinks that Carl cannot possibly succeed, since he has only a 7th grade education. Carl stays the entire night at the library reading and learning more about the Navy program. Next morning, Jo is so impressed by his progress that she agrees to help Carl. The two spend many evenings together, eventually developing a relationship in the process. Soon, Carl is back in the classroom awaiting the results of another test. As the exams are passed out, Carl is elated- he's scored a 76, keeping him in the program.
Next day there is a training exercise, involving patching the hole in a sunken ship and raising it to the surface. All at once, the ship accidentally shifts its position, snaring the air hose on one diver while the other flees for his life. Carl volunteers to bring down a new line for the trapped diver, and after several tense seconds, Carl is able to save the young mans' life. Unfortunately, due to the prejudiced environment of the time, the diver who fled earlier receives a medal for his actions while Carl is ignored.
That night, Carl is in town when he meets a young woman (Charlize Theron) who introduces herself as Gwen Sunday. Gwen takes Carl into the same bar her husband and his fellow divers frequent. Carl and Sunday face of in a competition using pressurized diving helmets to determine who can hold their breath the longest. Carl manages to win, but is again overlooked for his actions. Carl sees Jo watching the fight, and she reveals that she's been accepted into an internship and she won't have time to help Carl anymore. Carl, smitten, asks Jo to marry him. Jo contemplates driving off in a taxi, but she returns and accepts.
Chief Sunday meets with Captain "Pappy," (Hal Holbrook), the eccentric senior officer at the training school. Chief Sunday states that Carl has scored a 94 on his latest test, meaning that so long as Carl completes his last training exercise he will have passed all requirements for graduation. Pappy is not at all happy at the prospect of a "colored diver," but Sunday seems hesitant to agree.
Sunday confronts Carl yet again, stating that he will not be allowed to pass for graduation and breaking the radio Carl got from his father in their argument. Carl is furious but refuses to back down.
Next morning, Chief Sunday explains the final exercise to the recruits- they must assemble a flange underwater, pieces are on the river bottom and tools will be provided once the parts are found. They will earn points based on the speed of their work, but there is no set time limit and air will be provided to the diving suits for as long as the divers can stand the cold water.
Carl is among the first to find the parts for his project, but when he calls up for tools the attendants cut a hole in the tool bag sending them cascading all over the riverbank. Carl frantically searches for all the necessary parts.
Most of the other recruits are able to complete the project in about 2 hours. Carl remains in the water well into the night. Pappy orders Sunday to leave Carl in the water until he stops moving. Sunday, however, decides that too much time has passed already and gives the order to bring Carl back up. Just as they begin to haul in the lines, Carl's project flange comes to the surface, completed. After 9 hours and 31 minutes in the excruciatingly cold water, Carl Brashear has passed his final and essentially graduated with honors from Diving School. As Carl leaves the barracks next day, he runs into Snowhill again- who has been asked to rejoin the diving program. Carl also finds his father's radio, fully repaired.
Some time later, Carl and his wife are in a nightclub. Carl orders champagne as a celebration because he's been offered a job with Brooklyn Navy Yard. Carl doesn't know if he should accept the job, since he won't move up in rank as just a stand-by diver. Jo confesses that she is three months late, and Carl is suddenly overjoyed at the prospect of being a father.
At a New Years' party, Sunday and his wife run into Lt. Hanks- the man who ended Sunday's diving career. Despite his best efforts to remain civil, Sunday ends up attacking the lieutenant. Charges are filed against Sunday for assaulting a superior officer, and he suffers a rank reduction.
The scene then shifts back to Chief Sunday watching a TV report explaining the current salvage operations. Earlier that day, an American B-52 bomber crashed in Spain. Before impact, it released its payload of three 50-megaton warheads on parachutes. Two have been recovered but the last one is lost at sea. Furthermore, maritime law dictates that since the bomb vanished in international waters, whoever finds it first will be considered the true owner. So the US Divers are racing against Russian submarines to be the first to find the missing nuke.
Carl is one of several divers assigned to try and find the missing bomb. At one point, Carl finds a metal object on the sea floor but it turns out to be a mere Coke can. At that moment, sonar signals in the water are detected- there is a Russian submarine is Carls' immediate vicinity. Carl spots the sub and tries to run for cover, but his air line is caught by the sub and he is dragged along the ocean floor. After several tense seconds, Carl is able to contact the surface and tell them that he is unhurt. As they prepare to bring him home, Carl notices a large metal object nearby. The sub's movement has caused most of the silt and debris on the ocean floor to move aside, essentially finding the nuke for them!
Back on deck, Carl watches as the bomb is brought on board. An accident with the winch on deck causes the lines holding the bomb to snap. Carl shoves several other deck hands aside, but his own leg is caught by the snapped wire.
Carl wakes up later in a hospital, with Jo by his side. Jo explains that Carl's leg was nearly severed by the impact, but doctors think he will walk again. Carl realizes that this injury has put an end to his diving career and he is devastated.
Meanwhile, Chief Sunday has fallen on hard times since his rank reduction. He is now in a rehab clinic undergoing detox for alcoholism. With the support of his wife, Sunday gets back on his feet. He recognizes Carl from a news story about the accident.
Carl is still in the hospital reading a news story before speaking with his superiors (including the now-Captain Hanks). Carl wants to return to full diving duty, but they feel that it is impossible in his current state. Carl voices his desire to have the damaged leg amputated and return after a fitting with a prosthesis. Jo is furious about Carl's reckless and apparently selfish attitude, and walks out.
Later, Carl's leg is indeed amputated. He begins the difficult process of learning to move and act with a prosthetic. Chief Sunday shows up and asks if he can help Carl. Sunday makes a deal with Captain Hanks- he will get four weeks to train Carl before a hearing with the Chief of Naval Personnel. Hanks agrees, on the condition that Sunday take immediate retirement if and when Carl fails to return to duty.
A month later, Carl appears before the Naval Personnel and they discuss his possible return. Captain Hanks outlines a new requirement for Navy Divers- a new diving suit, weighing in at 290 pounds has been approved for use and anyone wanting to use it must take 12 steps inside it on land. Carl, seeing that Jo and his son are in the audience, volunteers to take the 12 steps right then and there.
Chief Sunday steps forward and offers to help Carl suit up, and Captain Hanks allows the trial to go forth.
Carl stands up in the new suit, and-with obvious great discomfort- takes a few clumsy steps forward. Everyone assumes that his prosthetic will snap, but Sunday steps forward and begins shouting orders at Carl (identical to their first session at diving school years before). Carl struggles, but keeps moving forward until he has reached the twelfth step.
Captain Hanks, realizing that no more can be done, announces that the Navy will be reinstating Carl Brashear to full diving duty.
Carl and Sunday salute one another, then meet with their wives as a celebration of this important victory.
Text at the end reveals that Carl Braschear was the first African-American amputee to assume Navy diving duty, and that two years after his reinstatement Carl was promoted to Master Chief. Carl continued in his Naval career for another nine years before finally taking retirement.