The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it. 

 

David and Margaret were sharply divided on this film. Watch their review above.

3.5

For three days, in November 1965, the first major battle took place between Americans and Vietnamese. 395 soldiers of the First Batallion of the 7th Cavalry were dropped by choppers into territory controlled by 2,000 Vietnamese regulars of the People's Army of Vietnam. The American troops were led by Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), a deeply religious veteran of the Korean War, a married man with five children, and a hands-on officer who fought alongside his men. After the war, Moore wrote a book, in collaboration with journalist Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), a newsman who found himself in the thick of the battle - and this violent, graphic film is based on that book - 'We Were Soldiers Once and Young'.

We Were Soldiers is inevitably going to be compared with Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, since both films concentrate on depicting what it is like to be in the heat of battle, caught up in the confusion and horror and blood - and because neither film attempts to explore why American soldiers were involved in a conflict on foreign soil. We Were Soldiers clearly respects the Vietnamese soldiers, even if it allows them relatively little screen time; but mostly it shows the courage of the Americans.

Technically, it's an extremely impressive film - Dean Semler's photography of the conflict is quite magnificent; scenes back home, with war department telegrams bearing terrible news sent to young wives and mothers in a big yellow taxi also impress. Gibson is very effective as the courageous soldier at the centre of the tragedy.

Yet despite its qualities - and it's a big improvement on director Randall Wallace's previous film, a poor adaptation of The Man In The Iron Mask - there's something missing from We Were Soldiers - perhaps it's a victim of its own technical cleverness - in the midst of the carnage and the horror, the human stories tend to get lost.