|We Were Soldiers, based on the bestselling account of the battle of La Drang valley at the outset of the Vietnam War, is the latest Mel Gibson Braveheart-esque offering where plot and characterisation, rather than the men who lost their lives in the conflict, are the most serious casualties. The story follows Lt. Colonel Hal Moore (Gibson) and his platoon through a brief spell at boot camp and then into the battle itself. |
In place of the moral ambiguity offered by, say, Platoon or Hamburger Hill, We Were Soldiers presents us with archetypes. Gibson's family man colonel is almost a parody of Patton, a man with so much heart you wonder how he manages to get up in the morning. He's a good Catholic, loves his men, and tells us that he's the first one on the battlefield and the last one off. And if that self-eulogising wasn't enough we have the slow-mo, heavily scored last-one-into-the-helicopter moment to prove it. In uncomfortably jingoistic contrast, the commander of the Viet Cong never leaves his cavernous headquarters as he sends his faceless foot soldiers to their death.
What saves the film are Ryan Hurst's performance as the stoic Sergeant Ernie Savage and Barry Pepper's non-combatant journalist who gets caught up in the action and has to fight to survive, both of whom inject some much-needed humanity into the action. Otherwise there is so little character development before the offensive that you find yourself squinting at the screen trying to work out who just bought the bullet when you really should be feeling every gunshot. Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace's direction is heavy handed and over sentimental--relentless violence masquerades as poignant remembrances of the futility of war--and the only time it ever approaches genuine emotion is the scene where the wives begin receiving telegrams detailing their husband's deaths. When measured against Hamburger Hill and Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers doesn't even deserve to be in the same platoon. --Kristen Bowditch