We Were Soldiers (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Only the dead have see the last of war."

----- Plato -----

This is an movie that stands apart from most Vietnam movies by showing what was good about the war as well as what was bad.

It is almost a truism to say that the Vietnamese war was disastrous for America and its sons. It stole away our faith in our own leadership. It made us seem to be imperialist aggressors in the world's eyes. It caused boys to be sent home in pieces or in body bags, all for a dubious cause. If they did make it home, there were no parades. There were college kids calling them "baby-killers".

But we have heard enough about the political failings of Nixon and LBJ, and we have gone over the military failings of General Westmoreland ad infinitum. It is good to remember that beneath that inept and misguided leadership was bravery and heroism and fellowship, and good men fighting for their country and for each other. They did it because it was their profession, and/or because their country asked them to or forced them to. 



This film centers around the first major American battle of the war, Ia Drang Valley, and it is told from both the American and North Vietnamese perspectives, switching back and forth ala "Patton". It is not shy about pointing out some of the mistakes made by America at the time, both military and political, but that really is not the point of the film. The authors have no political axe to grind. The film is simply the story of the American field commander, Lt Col Moore, his men, and their kinship as a unit. It is based on Moore's own book, "We Were Soldiers Once, and Young", which he co-wrote with a reporter who was also present at the battle.  The two men also appear as characters in the film. Moore and the reporter are played by Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper, respectively.

I don't think I can improve on Moore's heartfelt eloquence. The following is excerpted from his prologue, with minor editing.

We were the children of the 1950's and the Kennedy stalwarts of the early 60's. JFK told the world that we would "pay any price" for freedom. We were the down payment on that costly contract, but the man who signed it was not there when we fulfilled his promise. He waited for us on a hill in Arlington, and in time we came by the thousands to fill those slopes with our white marble markers, and to ask on the murmur of the wind if that was truly the future he had envisioned for us.
The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlements where we bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed. We answered the call of a President who was now dead, we followed the orders of another who would be hounded from office and haunted by the war he mismanaged so badly.
Many of our countrymen came to hate the war we fought. Those who hated it the most - the professionally sensitive - were not, in the end, sensitive enough to differentiate between the war and the soldiers who had been ORDERED to fight it. In time our battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and our suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned.
This story also stands as a tribute to the young men of the People's Army of Vietnam who died by our hand in that place. They, too, fought and died bravely. They were a worthy enemy. This is our story and theirs. For we were soldiers once, and young.

The two authors also interviewed hundreds of others who were involved in the story, including the key military personnel from North Vietnam, in order to show all sides of the story as accurately as possible.

The critical round-up on this film was quite astounding to me. While critics in general praised it, the average British critic awarded it one star. The very best review in Britain was 3/5 from BBC. Nobody else in the Guardian's round-up rated it higher than 4/10. To be sure, there are some elements of this film I wonder about. Because the two guys who wrote the story are portrayed as characters, I wonder if they are quite as heroic and decent as they portray themselves. I wonder if their account of the story is not a bit self-serving, and sometimes it lathers it on pretty darned thick.

But, be that as it may, the film confers honor on those who did what they had to do honorably, and it does so effectively and cinematically. It is an excellent movie, deeply moving, yet both profound and fair. In the last analysis, it is about a bunch of men who bonded together when performing an impossible task that they were ordered to do. There is something greater and deeper about their team than the teams we play on, because they played for bigger stakes and when they lost, they lost everything.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director/ Writer Randall Wallace

  • "Getting It Right" - Behind the scenes of We Were Soldiers

  • 10 deleted scenes with director's commentary

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.85:1

The most important line in the film: "In the end, they did not fight for God.....country.....right. They fought for each other".

The best line in the film comes from Sam Elliott as the battalion's sergeant major. Lt. Col Moore's unit was the First Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, the very unit which had already suffered the most complete battlefield humiliation in American military history, Custer's defeat at Little Big Horn. Colonel Moore says at one dark point in the battle that he really doesn't want to learn how Custer felt when he realized he'd moved his men into slaughter. The Sergeant Major answers laconically, "Big difference, sir. Custer was a pussy. You ain't."

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, filmcritic.com 3/5.

  • General consensus in the U.K.: less than one star. Daily Mail 4/10, Daily Telegraph 2/10, Independent 2/10, The Guardian 1/10, The Times 1/10, Evening Standard 2/10, The Express 4/10, The Mirror 1/10, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.4/10, Guardian voters 8.5/10.
  • with their dollars: made for $75 million dollars, it grossed $78 million domestically. That was disappointing for a 3100 screen rollout. They hoped for at least double that. So far, the film is a money loser, but I suppose it will break even eventually with other revenue sources. It deserved better.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. An underrated movie which appeals to many people who hate war movies.

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