We Were Soldiers Reviews
~ Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore ~
Director Randall Wallace and Actor Mel Gibson collaborate once again for the first time since they worked together in Braveheart. A perilous and sadistically violent war drama that drops you straight onto the battlefield and into the line of fire. A painstakingly breathtaking and emotionally towering film that packs nerve shredding power and heartfelt intensity from beginning to end. "We Were Soldiers" jumps straight to near the top of the list of the best Vietnam War films ever made, the power is almost overwhelming in parts, and the violence so realistically portrayed that it gets a bit tough to watch. From Platoon to Hamburger Hill, The Deer Hunter to Apocalypse Now, all Vietnam War films pack a serious punch of wickedly electrifying emotion and power, this film is just another to add in a pile of Vietnam War masterpieces. The true story of a man committed to his troops, Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the commanding officer of the First Battalion Seventh Cavalry and their bravery during one of the most violent battles during The Vietnam War. A story of courage, comaradarie, bravery, hope and the power of faith during the darkest of times. Randall Wallace throws you straight into the gut-wrenching and stomach-churning battle that took place in 1965 in Vietnam's La Drang Valley, otherwise known as "The Valley Of Death". It's jampacked with sustained action packed battles and hardcore realism throughout. A truly powerful piece of work from everyone involved.
From an acting standpoint, this film is very well done and is teeming with awesome talent. Mel Gibson does a brilliant job throughout in another very demanding performance. Always good to see Gibson doing what he does best. The supporting cast comes up huge and includes brilliant performances from Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott, Kerri Russell and Barry Pepper
Well, I exaggerate the degree to which this film dries up when Randall Wallace's storytelling dips both into thoughtfulness and in material, but make no mistake, there are some surprisingly limp slow spells here which really defuse momentum through a certain, sometimes almost dull tonal chilling which is all too often broken by extremes. Quite frankly, among the most extreme issues with this film is sentimentality that is sometimes surprisingly overbearing with its abused of thematic visuals and near-cloying scoring in order to craft abrasive moments in tone which range from unnerving to almost embarrassingly sappy, and are made all the more aggravating from a trite sense which derives from formulaic storytelling. Rotten Tomatoes' consensus boasts that the "war clich[é]s are laid on a bit thick", but, in my opinion, they would be greater were it not for some potentially refreshing elements that, as cruel irony would have it, also make it all the more difficult to ignore the genericisms which do stand, and firm I might add, cheesing a few things up with clichéd dialogue and character types, and further retarding dramatic momentum by establishing a sense of predictability. It's not especially hard to tell where the drama is heading, so it's hard to justify the final product's taking too long to reach its expected points, because, at 139 minutes, this surprisingly minimalist war flick makes those aforementioned dry spells all the more detrimental to a sense of momentum by slowing things down, even in a script that particularly gets overdrawn with, of all things, its action sequences, which go on for so long that, despite the adequate dynamicity, monotony sets in to further water down dramatic kick. Of course, the fat around the edges go beyond the action, because when the film gets back to plot, it gets mighty carried away, slowly, but surely packing on layer upon layer, and subplot upon subplot, to the point of focal inconsistencies and even a hint of convolution, and the more the film tries to beef things up, the thinner a sense of meat gets. The film kicks off with a very promising development segment that draws plenty of intriguing aspects which could have gone into making a gripping opus, but once the body is reached, oddly enough, genuine dramatic value dips, never lost, but nonetheless in a manner that would be hard enough for Randall Wallace to compensate for, without all of the slow spells, overwrought sentimentality, genericisms and excess in action and plotting that drive the final product short of rewarding. The film could have been very underwhelming, if not worse, it gets so flimsy at times, and yet, with all my complaints about misguided overambition and lazy missteps, there are plenty of strengths, perhaps even conceptual intrigue fit for a more rewarding drama.
Spreading focus among various military men, and even touching upon the struggles of military wives back home, yet still rather thin in scale once it reaches an arguably overly action-oriented body, this film's story concept is simultaneously overblown and minimalist, and not even particularly refreshing, but it's hard to not pay respects to this idea for all of the layers and dramatic and thematic value found in the concept, alone, and done some justice by some commendable aspects in writing. Randall Wallace's efforts, at least as screenwriter, are never too impressive, and really start to go south when the particularly formulaic and excessive body is reached, but the sheer audacity to flesh out this still very rich story is respectable, and when tightness is found in plot structuring and characterization, that's when Wallace truly delivers on glimpses of what could have been. Of course, Wallace's writing would establish these glimpses so clearly if it wasn't for Wallace's efforts as director, which admittedly particularly thrive on technical value, solid scene staging and an audacious, if often overtly disturbing attention to violence that result in some killer action which, for all its excessiveness, is just tight and dynamic enough to entertain, and resonate when accompanied by inspiration in dramatic storytelling. Mind you, when Wallace places his grip on sentimentality, he tends to lose focus on when exactly to stop squeezing, until the film becomes kind of cloying, yet when the orchestration of memorably weighty visuals and Nick Glennie-Smith's trite, but decent score is realized, the resonance is almost piercing in its, as put best by Rotten Tomatoes' consensus, "putting a human face on soldiers of both sides in the Vietnam War". The film is so messy so often, and I hate that, because when the film hits as a drama, it hits hard, with tension and tenderness which fit subject matter of this nature like a glove, and keep a genuine human heart pumping fairly well, though not as much as the characters' portrayals. If nothing else keeps consistent with its effectiveness more-or-less throughout the final product, it is the performances, because just about everyone, at one time or another, shines, whether it be Barry Pepper as a journalist who sees more horror than he ever could have predicted, or Greg Kinnear as a military superior who must be prepared to face tragedy, or Madeleine Stowe as a military wife who must share with her peers news she dreads receiving herself, or the show-stealing Mel Gibson as a good and proud man of honor, brotherhood and war who must lead his men to gruesome dangers, and face the burden of witnessing the devastating aftermath. Gibson and his peers define much of the heart and soul of this drama, but not alone, because no matter how misguided Wallace gets to be, what is done right is done well enough compel reasonably and consistently, if improvably.
In the end, when Randall Wallace's directorial tone doesn't dry out, it bombards, with a certain sentimentality that, alongside conventions, excess and unevenness, defuse the final product's momentum, until reward value is lost, all but retained by nonetheless worthy subject matter, well-rounded writing highlights, thrilling action, resonant dramatic highlights, and across-the-board strong performances which make "We Were Soldiers" a plenty decent, if plenty flimsy portrait on the horrors of war.
2.75/5 - Decent