March 6, 2002 – "We Were Soldiers" has come in for more praise as a tribute to the men who fought America's first, and possibly bloodiest, battle of the Vietnam war, than as a movie.
The problem with the new movie, says Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is that "Black Hawk Down" got there first, "and it got there better." Gillespie says it seems the current trend in war movies is not the "greater issues of war," but a focus on "who threw the grenades and took the bullets."
This may be true of "Black Hawk Down," but under Ridley Scott's direction, it is probably one of the strongest antiwar movies ever made.
"We Were Soldiers" stars Mel Gibson as Harvard-educated Lt. Col. Harold Moore, who led his forces into the 1965 Battle of La Drang Valley, the "Valley of Death," where about 400 U.S. soldiers were surrounded by some 2,000 North Vietnamese.
The movie follows Moore as he trains his men at Fort Benning, Ga., aided by cynical, growly Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott). Then we watch as he takes them into the field, where all hell breaks loose for the rest of the movie.
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington writes that the film is the Vietnam battle epic that supporters of the war have been waiting to see for more than three decades — since Vietnam became a cinematic symbol for national nightmare and the dark night of our soul in the 1970s via such movie classics as "Apocalypse Now," "The Deer Hunter" and "Platoon."
Yet, Wilmington says, "the war is a nightmare here, too, even if the American soldiers fighting it are portrayed as unabashed heroes, drawn with warm sympathy and high admiration." What it lacks is a traditional villain, he says. "Like the original 1992 book by the real-life Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, the film refuses to demonize the North Vietnamese, choosing to pay tribute to them as well."
As Gillespie sees it, some of the most gut-wrenching moments of the movie occur far from the battlefield, as Moore's wife, Julie ( Madeleine Stowe), and other military wives deliver the military's dreaded "We regret to inform you …" telegrams in person.
Greg Kinnear, as a brash young helicopter pilot, and Chris Klein also star in the two and a half hour long movie, which was directed by Randal Wallace. It is rated R for sustained sequences of graphic war violence and for language.
It starts Thursday at Diamond Cinemas.


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