We Were Soldiers Review

For some reason, the war film has come back into fashion in a big way recently, ever since Spielberg pioneered extremely gruesome and realistic violence into Saving Private Ryan, disguising a simple-minded plot that might well have come from a John Wayne film (and, incidentally, which was vastly exceeded in depth and interest by its spin-off Band of Brothers. A good rule of thumb with war films of late has been that if the director is hugely talented- Spielberg, Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott- the result will be extremely good on a technical level, if nothing else; if, however, the director is better suited to MTV videos (Michael Bay, the man who directed Behind Enemy Lines), the result is again likely to reflect this. If, however, the director's career highpoint was Man in the Iron Mask, or, to be more accurate, his only previous film, one could be forgiven for being sceptical about his follow-up, especially given the dubious quality of his scripts to Pearl Harbor and Braveheart, both films rescued by their direction, rather than innate storytelling brilliance. There is no such relief here.

The plot is more or less the same as the recent Black Hawk Down; namely, American soldiers go into foreign country on spurious pretext for furtherance of mistaken ideal, vastly underestimate enemy strength, and spend rest of battle/film's duration fighting hordes and hordes of faceless villains. However, Wallace tries- and fails- to give the film some human dimension; thus, we are shown the hard-as-nails Colonel Hal Moore (Gibson) with his family and wife (Stowe), and the obligatory stock characters of the tough sergeant (Elliott), the young rookie lieutenant (Klein), and the dependable helicopter pilot (Kinnear) as they battle the Vietnamese, who are not given any dimension beyond a subterreanean commander barking subtitled orders like 'We shall take them from the left flank!'

The film's good points first; Barry Pepper is really quite good as a photojournalist-turned-reluctant soldier, managing to provide what little heart the film has, and showing that he has a career after Battlefield Earth. Gibson is fine, if hardly exceptional in a role a dozen other actors could have played, and Elliott is fun as the sergeant, getting the film's sole decent line (upon being asked by an exhausted Moore 'What would Custer have done', he replies laconically 'Custer was a pussy, sir. You ain't.') There is the odd moment that works dramatically; a shot here, a brief scene there, but there are hints that a genuinely remarkable film might have been made about the tragic events shown. And it's a slight improvement on Man in the Iron Mask, insofar as it's not as unintentionally hilarious.

However, Wallace is also in danger of becoming the next Paul Anderson; namely, a director who has little actual talent, but continues to make expensive films with A-list stars and expensive settings. Most of We Were Soldiers alternates between dramatically turgid and repetitive scenes of fighting, where it's impossible to tell what's going on, and hard to care if you can, and some jaw-droppingly misguided scenes of 'life back home'. Returning briefly to Iron Mask form, Wallace manages to include two scenes of utter hilarity here; the first is a meeting of the womenfolk of the base, and the second is a scene where Moore's wife volunteers to deliver the 'missing in action' telegrams. Neither scene should be funny on paper, but the sheer ineptitude of the scripting and direction- the film casually manages to turn racial segregation into the punchline of a bad joke!- elevates this briefly into 'so bad, it's good' territory.

As it deals with 'important' issues, and differs slightly from most Vietnam films in that it all but glorifies the American cause, this is bound to attract its fair share of attention, and it may even impress some into thinking that it is a great film of sorts. However, anyone who has seen All Quiet on the Western Front, Zulu, Paths of Glory, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket or The Thin Red Line will know what a great war film actually is, and this derivative, empty piece of jingoism is not one of them. Avoid.

Overall

4

out of 10

Last updated: 23/06/2018 02:36:55

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