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"We Were Soldiers" DVD

Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Guide Rating -

Tagline: "Fathers, brothers, husbands & sons."

Length: 138 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for sustained sequences of graphic war violence, and for language

Mel Gibson gives a winning performance in "We Were Soldiers," an emotionally engaging military action movie that centers around a historic Vietnam War battle. The film is loaded with exciting combat footage, but what I like best about it is its portrayal of real-life career Army officer Hal Moore. The movie is heavy-handed and corny at times, but when I watched it at home recently on DVD, I liked it a lot anyway. For me, the importance of the subject matter and the way Gibson brings Moore to life on the screen far outweigh the film's flaws.

The movie "We Were Soldiers" is based loosely on the book "We Were Soldiers Once … and Young" by Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway, where they look back on a major battle between the U.S. Army and North Vietnamese Army regulars fought in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in November, 1965. Moore, who then held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, led a battalion of American soldiers. Galloway was there as a journalist, but ended up fighting, too. Moore and Galloway gave their book an elegiac tone, which the film preserves.

Early in the movie, we meet Hal Moore (Gibson), his wife (Madeleine Stowe), and their five young children. It's 1964, and they arrive at Fort Benning, Georgia, where Moore heads up the combat training of about 450 men. Moore's unit includes a daredevil helicopter pilot (Greg Kinnear), a battle-hardened sergeant major (Sam Elliott), and a green second lieutenant (Chris Klein). Eventually the unit is ordered to Vietnam, and we hear Lieutenant Colonel Moore promise his men, "When we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind."

The movie then quickly moves to November, 1965, when Moore's battalion is involved in a grim three-day battle in the Ia Drang Valley that takes up about 90 minutes of screen time. During the fighting, journalist Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) joins Moore's unit. Moore and the 395 men under his command are pitted against about 2000 well-equipped, experienced North Vietnamese troops, but the Americans have artillery and air support, while the enemy does not. When the battle is over, the estimate of the number of enemy killed is put at 1800, but 79 Americans have lost their lives.

While the combat sequences in "We Were Soldiers" are powerful, the film has other memorable scenes as well. Consider, for example, where a Yellow Cab pulls up at the Fort Benning house of an officer's wife (Keri Russell). The driver comes to the door and hands her a telegram that begins: "THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY REGRETS … " Thus the young woman learns she is a war widow. This actually happened because in the early stages of the Vietnam War the Army didn't have casualty-notification teams set up.

I really liked the way Mel Gibson played Hal Moore in the movie. Gibson looks right firing an M-16 rifle, but he also looks right saying bedtime prayers with his kids, dancing with his wife, and giving an inspirational speech to his troops. Not only does Gibson come across as a great battlefield leader, he makes the dramatic scenes very poignant.

I really enjoyed the "'Getting It Right' Behind-the-Scenes" special feature on the DVD. It was interesting to meet the real Hal Moore, his wife Julie, Joe Galloway, and a couple of the other people depicted in the film.

Some of the ten deleted scenes on the DVD are also worth watching. I particularly liked the one where Moore meets with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara congratulates Moore on his victory, computes a kill ratio of 22 to 1, and concludes that the United States will win the Vietnam War. But Moore somberly cautions him against underestimating the determination of the Vietnamese to free their country of foreign domination.

The DVD also has an audio track that provides a feature-length running commentary by director-writer-producer Randall Wallace. He makes some reasonably interesting remarks, particularly about the location shooting at Fort Benning.

Selected Special Features on the DVD:

• Commentary by Director-Writer-Producer Randall Wallace
"Getting It Right" Behind-the-Scenes (25 minutes)
Deleted Scenes (10)
• DVD Release Date: August 20, 2002

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