WE WERE SOLDIERS
Reviewed September 14th, 2002 by Brian White
It is a little hard to take this movie seriously at first. Here is an epic Mel Gibson war movie, with all the Hollywood trimmings, and a budget larger than the GDP of Texas. You’ve got every cliché of the Hollywood War Movie: the tough, heroic commander with a heart of gold, his comically crusty sidekick, the crazy stuntman pilot, and the apple-pie munching soldiers. I was surprised that you didn’t have more obvious references, like the Jewish kid from Brooklyn, the Italian kid. They’re all brothers in arms. Added to all of the similarities to past war movies is the Michael Bay-esque filmmaking. You can’t believe how real the fighting looks, and your speakers haven’t had a workout like this since Saving Private Ryan.
But wait a second. Why is a Vietnam film making allusions to WWII flicks? That isn’t part of the Hollywood lexicon. Aren’t we supposed to be uncomfortable about that war? Shouldn’t films about Vietnam be complicated, and open ended? How can there be any glory in Vietnam?
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore not only faced insurmountable odds in his military career, but he also asserts that no movie about Vietnam has gotten it right. Director Randall Wallace, on the documentary “Getting it Right” that graces this disc, explains how he set out to remedy that situation. This flashy movie gains a whole lot of weight when you realize that the central battle is based closely on real events. I say “closely” because I don’t think it’s possible for Hollywood to not take liberties in the interest of time and drama. We Were Soldiers is a testimony to the spirit of the soldiers that Moore commanded on that day. It does them a great honor.
The performances in the film are more than acceptable. It’s hard to get past Mel Gibson’s celebrity in any film, but he is actually very good as Hal Moore. Sam Elliot, is fantastic as his right hand man, Sgt. Major Plumley. Greg Kinnear’s part grows in complexity as the film progresses, but he isn’t given enough to do. Madeleine Stowe is great as Moore’s wife. The film makes a great effort to show how difficult life is for army wives.
So the movie is a little corny, but maybe it’s about time that Vietnam got a little more glory.
The DVD looks quite good, as you’d expect. This movie is beautifully shot. Obviously, green is a predominant color throughout, but the transfer is very rich looking. We Were Soldiers is a very well crafted film, and the DVD boasts a great transfer. The transfer is anamorphic and 2.35:1.
Now the best part: HOLY CRAP THE SOUND ROX! You get a REALLY active Dolby Digital EX mix that borders on frightening. On the documentary, the sound designers discuss the thousand (!) audio tracks in some places. There are some artful effects, like the crystal/bell sound of falling spent bullet casings. Great sound.
For extras, there is a feature-length commentary by Wallace. This movie is obviously a labor of love, and there is plenty of information contained on the track. Wallace’s comments add a lot to the experience of the film. As was mentioned earlier, there is a fantastic featurette on the disc called “Getting it Right.” The documentary deals with every aspect of the film, from the inspiration, to the costumes and settings. We also see the actors meeting the real world personalities on which their characters are based. It is very interesting to see the real people discussing their filmed counterparts. Special effects, sound design and music are also discussed. The disc also contains deleted scenes.
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