We Were Soldiers
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This is half of a good movie.  As long as there's shooting going on, We Were Soldiers does a good job but as soon as it explores the life of the wives back home, it gets painfully bad. We Were Soldiers tells the true story of a Colonel (Mel Gibson) and the 1st battalion of the 7th Cavalry (The same regiment that Custer commanded) who fight the first major battle of the Vietnam war.  Gibson is an Omar Bradley not a George Patton.  He is the kind of commander we would all like to have, one who is interested in the welfare of his soldiers rather than getting the glory. Unfortunately, he is ordered to take his men into what turns out to be an ambush where they are heavily outnumbered and cutoff from reinforcements.  The three day battle is intense and draws the viewer into the action as the soldiers seem to be on their way to the same fate that befell Custer. There is more gore shown than is really necessary and this film's technological innovation seems to be slow-motion gore.  I closed my eyes many times.  The US Cavalry in Vietnam rode into battle on helicopters, now an every day experience for troops in Afghanistan, but which at the time, was a new idea.  The helicopter pilots are commanded by a guy nicknamed Snakeshit (Greg Kinnear).   Meanwhile, back home in Georgia, the wives of the soldiers led by the Colonel's wife (Madeline Stowe) try to make the best of it.  You can compare We Were Soldiers to The Green Berets to see how much has and hasn't changed in the last 35 years. The plots of the two movies are very similar.  In both, we see the battle through the eyes of an outsider caught up the action.  Both are reporters covering the war, David Janssen in the earlier movie and Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers.  In the 1968 mindset of The Green Berets, there is an attempt to humanize the good Vietnamese who are fighting with the Americans (in the person of George Takei, best known for playing Mr. Sulu on Star Trek).  In the new movie, an attempt is made to portray the attacking  Vietcong as real people.  In this, they do a lot better than in Black Hawk Down where the Somalis were just an evil mob.  There is some subtext, however.  While Gibson is on the front line with his men throughout the battle, the Vietcong commander gives his orders from a bunker miles away.  The battle scenes are very well done and this takes up most of the movie.  But, from time to time, we are whisked back to Georgia to see the wives dealing with the arrival of telegrams.  Time and space collapse here as the telegrams arrive almost as their husbands are dying.  A similar thing happens during the battle when the soldiers radio for air support.  A plane always arrives to bomb the bad guys within about 5 seconds.  Anyway, the scenes back home are pretty painful to watch, not because of the what the wives are going through, but because it's so bad.  Madeline Stowe deserves better than this.  She is stuck wearing a wig that Cher may have worn in 1970, and has to utter some awful dialog while looking concerned.  Greg Kinnear's role is similar, a little reminiscent of Mikey Rooney's role in The Bridges at Toko-Ri.  But there are so many salutes and longing glances between Kinnear and Gibson that you have to wonder if they didn't have a thing for each other.   Barry Pepper, a veteran of Saving Private Ryan,  plays a UPI reporter covering the battle and also gets to have a worried or scared look on his face most of the time. We Were Soldiers is a very good role for Mel Gibson and he does a great job with it, much better than John Wayne in the The Green Berets.  But the film is almost stolen by Sam Elliott who plays Gibson's Sergeant Major.  Elliott makes any film better and is always a joy to watch.  Here, he has been cleaned up and morphed from his usual slouching, grizzled self into a combat happy Joe.  He gets most of the good lines in the film.  There are many other actors in the film but like Black Hawk Down, as the battle progresses, everyone gets so dirty and bloody you can't tell who they are.  But you can always see Mel's baby-blues glinting in the dark. What more do you need?