Movie Review: We Were SoldiersBARBARA NICOLOSI
"We Were Soldiers" goes much farther than "Braveheart" in telling the story of a man of faith who lived a martyr’s life in the name of duty and honor. In terms of cultural impact, this character is very cool, very smart, with integrity to burn, and very Catholic. We haven’t seen the best we can be like this up on the screen since "A Man for All Seasons".
Sunday, November 14, 1965 at 10:48 a.m., Lt. Col. Hal Moore and 400 young American
troopers touched down at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang (pronounced: Eye Drang)
Valley, a place in Vietnam known as "The Valley of Death." In a matter of hours,
they were surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The ensuing battle was
one of the most savage in U.S. history, and the first major encounter of the war
that most of us prefer to forget. It was the one after all, that we lost, and
at a very high cost.
We have seen, and mostly dreaded, Vietnam films
before. From maudlin left-leaning whines like Coming Home, The Deer
Hunter and Born on the Fourth of July, to the macabre savagery of Apocalypse
Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, every one of these films
falls down in so far as it tries to make a political statement. All of these films
left us feeling alternately uncomfortable, alienated from God, goodness and each
other, and sadly cynical.
We Were Soldiers,
instead, makes a human statement about soldiers, and the sacrificial burden they
assume on behalf of us all. It’s the same war as in the other films, but this
film makes audiences want to be people of nobility and honor. Writer and Director
Randall Wallace points to this as the driving motivation behind the project, “The
film doesn’t try to deal with the question of why these American soldiers were
there, but rather to confront us with the fact that they were there. We are so
removed from what soldiers do, what they have to do. I wanted us to understand
the terror, the physical struggle and suffering that came with being there.”
While most critics have given the film high marks, We Were Soldiers
has taken some hard hits for the unrelenting theme of the relationship between
faith in God and heroism. Faith is everywhere in this film. Especially lovely
is a scene in which Col. Moore prays over the dead bodies of some of his men.
There is lots of prayer, and it is very clear, that Moore is what he is because
of his friendship with God. The film was created in a perpetual climate of faith
starting on the first day of shooting with a prayer service at Ft. Benning, and
continuing with the frequent celebration of Mass on the set.
critics have ravaged the film. Don’t be fooled into staying away because of their
National Public Radio’s John Powers bashed the movie calling
it, “So devoutly square that you keep expecting John Wayne to turn up in a cameo…Its
storytelling is so corny it would have audiences rolling their eyes half a century
ago.” Powers admits with amusing embarrassment, “The film moved me more than it
deserved to” in a “celebration of heroism that feels deliberately clueless.” The
review goes on to ridicule the film for presenting a character who is, “A good
family man, a good Christian, and a good soldier,” and for showing the GI’s as
heroes and not showing any “drug use or even much cursing.” Not to say, but we’ve
really gotten rather weird as a culture when this kind of thing is counted as
a detraction against a work of art.
The undercurrent of NPR’s nastiness
and rage toward the film seems to be, on behalf of its largely baby boomer audience,
“How dare you take our Vietnam away! How dare you take away our excuse to be what
we have been as a generation these last thirty wasted years!” There is also a
simmering resentment that Christians should dare to make a classy, well-crafted,
and articulate film. They might actually have to take us seriously!
As he did in Pearl Harbor, Randall Wallace beautifully remembers the
women of the Vietnam War. As do the men on the front lines, their wives, mothers
and children form another community of resolute heroes. Their suffering is as
raw as that of their men, and their acceptance on behalf of the nation, just as
moving. I hadn’t thought about those women before. I hadn’t cried with them.
“Crying with them” is the residue that remains with the viewer after We
Were Soldiers ends. I cried during the film, not so much for the characters
dying so brutally on the screen, but because I was so ashamed of myself for never
having cried before. I was ashamed for every time I turned my face away from a
homeless Vietnam vet. The violence in the film is appropriately graphic, and when
I wanted to turn my head, the film reminded me that those guys who showed up,
couldn’t turn their heads. They saw, and what they saw became a lifetime burden.
Randall Wallace has done a good thing by adding this film to Hollywood’s canon
of the Vietnam War.
(We Were Soldiers is Rated R for some stark battle
violence. It is not suitable for young children.)
Barbara Nicolosi. "Movie
Review: We Were Soldiers." Liguorian (November 2001).
reprinted with permission from Liguorian, One Liguori Drive, Liguori,
Liguorian is a general interest Catholic magazine written
and edited for Catholics of all ages. Its purpose is to help readers better understand
the gospel and Church teaching and to show how these teachings apply to life and
the problems confronting them as members of families, the Church, and society.
Barbara Nicolosi teaches screenwriting to aspiring Catholic
writers at the acclaimed Act One: Writing
for Hollywood. You may email her at Actone2000@aol.com.
Copyright © 2001 Liguorian