"A good war movie for people who want to see a good war movie."
Dir./writ. Randall Wallace, from the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway; feat. Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear, Chris Klein, Keri Russell, and Barry Pepper. (R)
The first time I heard about We Were Soldiers was from my father, a Vietnam vet and recent inductee into the Tucson seniors tennis scene. He didn't tell me how real the film was supposed to be — something he mentioned after screenings of Platoon and Hamburger Hill — or that the story's focus on individual soldiers moved him, but that his doubles partner Ed Kinnear was upset at how small his son's part in the film ended up being. (Greg Kinnear plays a wily helicopter pilot named Snake Shit, 'cause he flies lower than it.) Nonetheless, this is a war movie about losing a conflict that, some two or three generations out, still lingers for anyone involved.
What Director Randall Wallace (writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart) does in this film, based on a true story, is focus not on what motivates the soldiers to go to Vietnam (and we never have to deal with that detail), but what makes them want to come back home. Duty comes before family in We Were Soldiers, and their sad job is one that, in the end, cleaves many men from their brood by bullet, bomb, and bayonet.
More or less, the film says that the soldiers who participated in the 1965 battle of Ia Drang Valley happened to be military men when a war started — living on base in Georgia and taking wages from Uncle Sam, they had no choice when their numbers were called. Most of the officers, including newlyweds, first-time parents, and heads of their own gaggles, would have rather stayed with their families than go fight a war that wasn't really a war in a country on the other side of the world.
Today it's nice that Capt. Dennis Brewer can relax and play some tennis after surviving a war that many would rather not see put to celluloid again. This movie is not going to be for everybody: Another gory "war is hell" film may seem as needed right now as a second installment of Fox's "When Buildings Fall Down."