Inspirational films often become classics long after leaving the theater. Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire) and Robert De Niro (Goodfellas), offers us a tale that has that type of enduring quality with both exciting action scenes and a truly original story.
Men of Honor follows Carl Brashear, played by Gooding, Jr., in his struggle to attain rank and honor in the U.S. Navy during the early 1950’s. The Navy at this time has been desegregated but great racial disparity remains. Carl, who joins the Navy in hopes of making a better life for himself and his parents, is immediately assigned to be a cook on a ship with a predominantly white crew.
He watches from this lowly station and dreams of becoming a Navy diver. This position is fraught with danger and has never been filled by a black officer. After a struggle and writing almost 200 letters, Carl eventually gets admitted to diving school, but he is not welcomed with open arms. Carl endures perpetual torment from fellow students and his commanding officer, Billy Holiday, played by De Niro. From here the real struggle begins, as Carl, with his limited education, must endure the arduous training involved in becoming a deep-sea diver and pressure from a commander who hates him.
Men of Honor is an excellent film with a number of outstanding performances. Gooding, Jr.’s performance is powerful and shows he can do more than just yell, Show me the money. He presents a character that is well developed and consistent throughout the movie. De Niro plays a dynamic character that inspires both sympathy and hatred.
The story is based on the real-life struggle of Carl Brashear, the first black Navy diver. The real Carl Brashear overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles while in the Navy and is himself a true inspiration – the reason director George Tillman, Jr. and producer Bill Cosby took on the project.
This film does an incredible job presenting Brashear’s real-life heroism. Action scenes at sea and near land are exciting and are ideal for the big-screen. The only shortcoming in Men of Honor is a forced love sequence. Whether or not it is factually true, the relationship that Carl develops with Jo, played by Aunjanue Ellis (Girlstown), is so rapid it warrants snickers from the audience. Carl convinces Jo, a librarian, to teach him how to read and understand certain naval texts. She does this and then disappears for most of the movie. Later, she reappears and marries Carl without any real development of their relationship.
Men of Honor has everything a huge box-office success needs. Early in the movie Carl’s father makes him swear that he will never quit, be the best. Carl does this in every conceivable way and becomes a real-life hero. This story is one that deserves to be told and watched.