Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Action Adventure Movie: We Were Soldiers (2002)

I saw this movie when it came out in theaters, and a few years after that, I read the book.  In 2002, Mel Gibson wasn't quite as notorious a Hollywood figure as he is today, and watching the movie again today I must admit knowing his predilections and prejudices sours the film a little for me.  Like a number of Hollywood personalities, we have a hard time separating our feelings about them as people from how we feel about their performances or their directed / written / produced works.  I know there a number of people in the industry who I consider rather abominable people, but find their bodies of work to be quite solid. C'est la vie.

We Were Soldiers is a film adaptation of the book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young by Lt. General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.  The book and the film cover the multi-day battle for the Ia Drang Valley between the US Army's Air Cavalry and the NVA.  It was the first major engagement between these two bodies and one of the few major "set piece" battles during the war.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and both sides claimed victory.  The battle did, among other things, give validity to the air cavalry operational model, which would become the hallmark of almost all operations during the Vietnam War (our first "Helicopter War").

In a way, the battle for Ia Drang Valley is a miniature version of the entire war for Vietnam.  US forces engage the NVA or VC, we bloody their noses badly before they inevitably fall back although we take substantial casualties ourselves, and then we almost immediately fall back after the battle is declared "won", giving the ground up to the NVA or VC who move back in and re-claim the battlefield. This is a cycle we will repeat for the next seven years.  Whether or not the US military and the government could foresee this cycle at the end of 1965 is still, I feel, up for debate.  That the American people did not foresee this cycle is, I feel, without question.

Still and all, I think We Were Soldiers is a pretty solid movie.  There is a lot of melodrama in it that can be tear-jerking and / or teeth-grinding depending on your disposition, but be forewarned that it is there.  Probably the most solid and enjoyable aspect of the film is Sam Elliot's portrayal of Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley.  Sam Elliot is one tough ol' sumbitch, and he puts every ounce of that mettle into his performance.  No one makes five combat drops in two wars and then goes on to fight through a third, and is still kickin' at the age of 91, without having balls of solid, stone-polished brass.

Here's an alternate trailer for the film, without the "Daddy, what is a war?" crap in the beginning that makes me throw up in my mouth a little.  I wish I could find other, better clips from this film, but they are rather scarce, of have spoilers I don't want to reveal.  Pay special attention to Sgt. Plumley's opinion of Armstrong Custer - it's classic.


Ty said...

Nice write-up! We Were Soldiers is a great film. Very Underrated. Also saw it in the theater.

Tom Johnson said...

I certainly enjoyed the film, though the inaccuracies were a sore spot. One segment that really hit home was the night deployment, leaving the family at home. That brought back a few memories! I enjoyed the bit with the cab driver delivering the death notices to the wives, but the Army never acted that quick in my twenty years service. Gee, while the battle is still going on, the Army is notifying the families of the deaths?

Machine Trooper said...

What y'all said!

Madeline Stowe was maybe overkill for the LTC's wife, but it was nice to see her just the same. IMO she's one of the best actresses out there.

Plumley's line got a laugh out of me and is memorable, but I believe "Custer was a moron" would have been more accurate. As a civilian, I can correct real-deal E-9s with no fear of retribution!

Alexander Tiedemann said...

There's always the difficulty of gambling with the plot when adaptations are made - audiences change when the media is changed. But melodrama aside, there still is a semblance of the real action in the scenes depicted.