|A soldier stands alone in the middle of a battleground littered with dead bodies and wounded men. And then he stands some more. And he keeps on standing. And finally, the camera pulls out to reveal more battlefield. And still, the soldier stands alone. In We Were Soldiers, there are just too many of these scenes, showing some soldier amidst the carnage of war, not doing anything but standing silent. There are a decent amount of explosions throughout the movie, but those moments of action are quite taken over by the highly patriotic and sentimental script from Randall Wallace. In a word? Melodrama.|
Now, there's standard melodrama (like the kind seen in Legends of the Fall) and there's weepy melodrama. The latter is present often in We Were Soldiers and seems to infiltrate every sentence in the film. Rather than telling the true-life story of these soldiers, the screenwriter has chosen to make these people full of sentimentality, so that their story is weakened. The story is also cheapened by the weak script. What these soldiers went through was probably pure hell and the way the story reads, the experience feels more like a mildly humorous account of the events starring Mel Gibson.
Gibson normally injects a lot of well-placed humor in his films, like the "heartwarming" kind seen in Braveheart, or the "ironic" kind, as seen in the Lethal Weapon series. But the humor in Soldiers is all wrong. There are a few moments during the first fourth of the movie when Gibson has a few funny exchanges with Greg Kinnear's helicoptor pilot, humbly nicknamed "Snakeshit." These bits of dialogue serve the movie well, as they reveal the character and the tone of the story. But that airy feeling permeates much of this film. And it's supposed to be about war.
There's a certain amount of gore and violence to it, but the picture as a whole is unmoving (except for the last thirty seconds or so...). Of course, the melodramatic tone of the picture adds to that feeling. And with verbal gems like "What is war, Daddy?" this picture seems to be in want of better dialogue. More than one american flag flies proudly in the breeze during the run of the picture and it's certain that these tokens of national pride are meant to pull at the heart strings of middle america, where this picture is assured a healthy box-office.
But the picture sometimes fails to dig deep into the spoils of war and creates more laughter than excitement. There is one eye-popping sequence where a couple of jets fly over the battlefield in Vietnam, dropping balls of fire out of the sky and lighting half the forest up in a blaze that covers most of the screen. But it's too little too late with this display of military might as it's the only real blast of war in the film.
In another aspect of the film, the Americans' reasons for being in Vietnam are not really cleared up. The circumstances of the United States's involvment in that war is a well-known history, but in the film, those reasons are never touched upon. The viewer has only a vague notion that the American government wants to stamp out communism, but even this reason is not fully explained. Some other aspects which are not delved into are the individual lives of the different soldiers in Gibson's group of soldiers. There are several nameless faces littered about the film and when these men die in battle, their deaths, however spectacular they may be, are lessened. Searching for a name on a uniform is the only way viewers can understand who these soldiers are.
Now, as a whole, this movie seeks to retell a battle which has not been a very well known aspect of the Vietnam war and by doing so does all those involved somewhat of an injustice. The individual soldiers and their lives are given too light retelling of the events. As a film, this movie serves only to show the actors on the screen with precious few army acrobatics thrown into the mix and a mass of nameless faces thrown into the jungles of Vietnam. This film's story would have been better served as a hard hitting documentary on the history channel with actual footage and first hand accounts thrown into the pot. The performances were there, but the story wasn't.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.