There is a good movie in We Were Soldiers. Somewhere in the two hour 20 minute Mel Gibson war flick, there is a shred of redeeming value. With that much screen time, there just has to be.
The film attempts to recount the experiences of war wives, widows, young gunners on the front lines and old weathered lieutenants. At the same time, the film tries to be as honest, brutal and family-friendly as possible. We get a view from behind enemy lines, a view from the lens of a journalist’s camera and a view from the ground, complete with the obligatory 21st century war-flick blood spray across the screen.
In the same vein of Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers attempts to embody the absolute horror of war. In this case, it is Nov. 14, 1965. The place is Ia Drang, Vietnam; an area that will soon be christened “The Valley of Death” for obvious reasons.
It is here that 450 American soldiers are dropped into Northern Vietnamese territory to confront 2,000 faceless enemies. Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) and young journalist Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) must cross the barren terrain amid the conflict.
Madeline Stowe plays the wife/mother in distress, fighting the war at home with an eternally quivering lower lip and teary eyes. As the inspiring, strong leader who embodies all that the flag waves for, Moore appears strong and brave.
While the chronicle illustrates the calamity and valor of war, screenwriter Randall Wallace misses the mark by tainting the discordant reality of war with unnecessary scenes. The wives’ plights are highlighted by their duty of delivering death notices friends and neighbors.
Many points in the film are belabored while others are barely touched. The movie is inconsistent, except for its lengthy scenes of battle, blood and gore that dominate the middle of the film.
The movie has a fervent ending, with a single American flag left waving among the fallen Vietnamese soldiers. Extreme patriots may be overjoyed, but the rest of us could use a break from cheesy sentiment. War movies are one thing, but for Gibson, it’s just getting old.