[September 5, 2020] I don’t do movie reviews, but I do comment on them occasionally. My wife told me that doing a “war movie review” might be a good idea, and I should consider starting. Here is my first attempt. The movie I chose today for a review is We Were Soldiers (2002) starring Mel Gibson.
The movie is based on the 1994 book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and war journalist Joseph Galloway. I first saw the movie at the Fort Sill, OK movie theater with about 50 soldiers attending from my Engineer unit. We were preparing for deployment to the Iraq War, and our commander thought it a good idea to give us a couple of hours off. Since that time, I read Hal Moore’s book, saw the movie another two times, and read a few reviews.
In Hal Moore’s book, he complains about how portrayals of the Vietnam War were inaccurate when he said that “Every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” I think back to movies like Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Apocalypse Now (1979) that help define the war in our minds but are historically inaccurate. Director Randall Wallace said he was inspired by this comment and became determined to get it right this time.
The movie puts most of the war’s politics and the traditional soldier bantering in the backseat to focus more on the men who fought there and their wives back home at Fort Benning, GA. Tactics of the real battle are shown as well as the brutality of the fighting without overdoing the blood and guts drama we so often see. However, the movie works best at a meaningful level; that of the American and North Vietnamese soldiers.
The Battle of Ia Drang was covered in an earlier article (see link here). There is a good showing of how Hal Moore’s soldiers used the use of the helicopter and jungle tactics from the 1st Cavalry Division. This gives us good visuals, like the helicopter gave combat troops tremendous mobility on the battlefield to commit forces anywhere.
What I found interesting was that the movie shows us, inadvertently I think, the problem when a military doesn’t have an objective that is clear. The soldiers in Vietnam were not told to take a specific geographical objective and then move onto the next. Instead, they operated under search and destroy missions. In the movie, we see Hal Moore’s commander telling him before the battle that his 1st Cav soldiers have a simple order, “Find the enemy and kill him.”
Courage is highlighted in the movie and it is done well. It shows how American soldiers stood up to a North Vietnam Army regiment that outnumbered them 10 to 1. This ratio would normally guarantee victory when locked in a battle where weaponry was similar and on the ground where the attacker had intimate knowledge.
I liked the movie and give it a thumbs-up. Watch it.