We Were Soldiers is a war film produced in 2002. The film dramatizes the pro-Vietnam era, Battle of la Drang, offering a non-political take with a true story of the war’s battle in 1965. The film was directed by Randall Wallace who puts together quite an accurate depiction of the scuffle. It stars Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore as Mel Gibson, Greg Kinnear as Major Bruce “Snakeshit” Crandall Sam Elliot as Sergeant Major Basil Plumly, and Madeleine Stowe as Julia Moore. The film is based on a written by reporters who were at the real battle (We Were Soldiers Once…And Young), Joseph Galloway and Lieutenant General Hal. Moore (Ret.). The aim of this paper is to review the We Were Soldiers film.
Colonel Moore and some 400 young troopers from the newly created American elite 7th “Air” Cavalry are in a place named The Valley of Death; a football field-sized called zone X-Ray. The soldiers are enclosed by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers that are hiding in tunnel warren mountainside. A battle ensues, one of the most savage battles in the history of the two countries. Colonel Moore (as Mel Gibson) excels in his role as a brave, determined, intelligent and quick thinking leader who leads by example. The soldiers fought bravely while they also looked after each other although some of them were wounded or killed. Colonel Moore, a true hero, promises his men that although many will die, none will be left behind. He trains them to learn the tasks of the man above and take care of each other; this way he gives the soldiers a purpose and dignity to continue in the battle that the men who sent them will never do.
It seems the director was well determined to get it right with this film as most Hollywood movies are just an exaggeration. However, the film gets many of the facts right from the book but its final version is not a true representation of the correct historical data of the battle. For example, towards the end of the film, there is a depiction of a heroic charge under the command of Moore destroying the Vietnam reserve. The correct account is that there was no heroic final charge in the book nor were the Vietnam reserves destroyed although a good number were killed. It seems however that the movie was simplified f or dramatic effects. The film depicts all soldiers to be mindful, obeys all orders and never pulling back, but the truth is that there were many coward soldiers that never followed orders.
The constant gun shots, explosions and screams make the movie exciting to watch. Although entertaining, the film captures the chaos that is of the guerilla warfare giving the film a blemish documentary realism. Hence, because it gives almost a correct version of the Vietnam War (and its adoption from the We Were Soldiers Once…And Young book), the movie is a history lesson that American people and indeed history lovers can watch. Most of the events depicted in the movie are true and thus make We Were Soldiers a different Vietnam movie unlike others like the Apocalypse Now.
There are several historical details depicted in the movie others with memorable scenes. The film is generally based on a historical account of the initial main battle in Vietnam by the Americans. We get to learn that during the earlier stages of the war, the soldiers did not have casualty notification teams. This is when a driver from the yellow cab drives to and delivers a telegram to a young woman reading “THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY REGRETS …” The woman later learns that she is a war widow. The combat scenery, costumes and cinematography are all well handled by the director helping tell the story in a more perfect way. Some of the photographs taken during the real battle are recreated to visualize the battle scenes and this can be believed including the black and white images of soldiers being killed during the conflict. However, the film’s brutal graphic opening scenes set a new yardstick in film movies but are hard to believe. The close-up battles especially napalm victim images are not for the fainthearted. Original screen-used costumes were used. The behaviors exhibited are just but believable as any normal person will react the same as the soldiers if confronted with such a situation. However, the movie is a bit realistic in its depiction of Mel Gibson as an almost untouchable soldier who can wander away from political aspects of the movie.
There are some fascinating quirks to this war as depicted by the film. The early setting in the war makes one ask questions as to the moral necessity of America to fight. This will only mean that there was ‘bad blood’ between the two countries hence America’s interest to fight the NVA. The movie shows that all men in spite of their color are pulling in the same direction as if that was not an issue. But I really doubt that this is true.
We Were Soldiers is very different from other Vietnam movies because does not address the political aspects of the war. This means that the movie has no agenda and neither does it addresses why the soldiers are in Vietnam. Thus the film does not offer information not known earlier about this war. This helps to reinforce the pointlessness of the war.
The film provides important helpful context. To the people looking for anti-war messages, there are there. On the part of our military, the movie shows just how unprepared the military was for the Vietnam soldiers (hence the young American soldiers) as well as the country’s terrain. The battle, put in its historical context, can be portrayed as a poorly planned army fighting a motivated side (NAV) who are fighting for their motherland but are against more sophisticated military equipments. This battle shows us that for the first time, the US had a fight on their hands costing the country many of its soldiers. America’s soldiers have no doubt defended the country well in spite of putting their lives in danger. The film shows how a smaller but brave American army with use of air support and artillery were able to defeat the ‘enemy.’
Although many points are changed to satisfy American viewers, the director does a great job of bringing history as well as some truth in the movie. This is one of the best movies from Hollywood since the 9/11 attacks. There have been several movies about the Vietnam War but this is in its own class that honors the men who fought as well as the women they loved. It is a movie that depicts the men put their lives on the line of duty not just for their country but for each other. We Were Soldiers shows us how not to fight a war but how to fight and win a battle. With its outstanding acting that has a variety of emotions, the film is indeed a tribute to the brave soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. The film takes the odd step of treating soldiers with dignity thus making them appear human with honor and ability and with wives left at home to mourn over them. The film is also a tribute to the nation’s soldiers out there, protecting America’s interests the world over. However, the movie has some weaknesses in its context: the battle action is very hard to follow although this can be interpreted to mean the disorientation and relentlessness caused by the war.