Subud Man’s Movie Review of, We Were Soldiers (2002), written and directed by Randall Wallace; starring Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Barry Pepper, Sam Elliot, Greg Kinnear and Keri Russell.
I have never seen a war movie like this, that even in the midst of fierce combat, the human beings fighting on both sides were somehow given a “personal face;” someone you could relate to. The description in Netflix does not nearly do it justice: “This Vietnam War epic tells the true story of the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang through the eyes of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who led 450 American soldiers into battle against thousands of well-armed Vietnamese troops.” The phrase, “We were soldiers,’ can also be used to describe the families, particularly, the women, the wives and mothers, who were left to “hold the fort” at home. These women emotionally hold each other through the bad news of beloved husbands killed in Vietnam and support each other through those long, hard and heavy times. I wish to say here that I have vivid memories as an adolescent in those times. I was afraid of being drafted. My uncle, Nelson, fought as a soldier there, relating to me, years afterward, the constant threat and terror (justified paranoia) of not knowing who could be trusted or when death would strike or from whom. I relate that here because, as I watched, I forgot the movie was a movie and the battle was on a television screen.
For this reason, I recognize how tremendous the acting was. The enemy Vietnamese Sergeant was a real person, with pride, arrogance, desperation and devotion to his men and task. Mel Gibson, as Lt. Col. Hal Moore, was at his best, giving the full and physical hurricane of emotions of this morally strong character; portrayed as a man of deep integrity and honor, decisiveness, and a total dedication (through both actions and emotional commitment) to his men. The horror that was displayed when the American soldiers watched their enemy being burned and blown to bits by their own attack, felt utterly genuine, showing the universality of the horror of war. The rich soundtrack score greatly enhanced the already visceral exhaustion of the devastation of the colliding of these two, up close, armies.
There were many beautiful touches of humanity in the very heat of the battle of machine gun bullets, grenades and firestorms of bombs. It all felt very close and exceptionally personal. The viewer is brought into the frey, in identification with the journalist, Joe Galloway, played so brilliantly by Gary Pepper, who with his camera, helped me to be simultaneously in the war, fully engaged with the rest of the soldiers as an engaged observer of the war. He was not a detached observer, as he put himself so much at risk and ultimately fighting alongside the soldiers, in a severely desperate part of the battle. This movie does not promote a political stance, as much as really honoring the spirit of soldiers. The American soldiers are fighting to save themselves and each other. And if there is an agenda to the story of this movie, it is the need and the responsibility for us to truly honor these men, who fought so hard, and so well and with such courage in the face of pure terror.
Also, as previously mentioned the movie presents the fortitude and harsh inner lives of the women who faced their own terror, paranoia, and fully justified fear, gallantly maintaining their families in the face of it all. This film demonstrates what real character, sacrifice, emotional strength is demanded of all the people whose lives are entangled in war’s storm on all the shores and in all the continents involved. Whether in the midst of battle, as well as in the homes and the streets of the suburbs we feel with these hoping, aching and fearing families. And I could not help but cry with everyone, including the Vietnamese soldiers uniquely humanized in this honorable film depicting the gruesomeness of war and the heroic spirit of human beings caught in its wake.
There is a sacred and religious (in the best sense) tone to this film which ends, completes and brings to fruition the whole feeling of the story, ending with the haunting hymn, “The Mansions of the Lord,” sung by USMA Glee Club and Voices, during the end credits. I have nothing bad to say about this film. It is a hymn to humanity, a hymn to the human spirit, to both men and women, to true leaders and true soldiers. It is a reminder to us never to minimize, much less dismiss, the courage needed, alongside the price to be paid in battle; whether justified or not justified. Amen