We Were Soldiers
|We Were Soldiers|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Randall Wallace|
|Produced by||Bruce Davey
|Screenplay by||Randall Wallace|
|Based on||We Were Soldiers Once… And Young
by Hal Moore
and Joseph L. Galloway
|Music by||Nick Glennie-Smith|
|Editing by||William Hoy|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||138 minutes|
We Were Soldiers is a 2002 war film that dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965. The film was directed by Randall Wallace and stars Mel Gibson. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (September 2012)|
A French unit is on patrol in Vietnam in 1954, during the final year of the First Indochina War. The unit is ambushed and killed by North Vietnamese Army forces. NVA commander Nguyen Huu An orders his soldiers to "kill all they send, and they will stop coming."
Eleven years later, the United States were fighting the Vietnam War. The upright and dedicated U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is chosen to train and lead a battalion in the escalating conflict. Moore is disturbed by the re-flagging of his unit as the 7th Cavalry prior to deployment, and by President Lyndon B. Johnson's refusal to make a formal declaration of war, as this will deprive Moore of his oldest, best-trained soldiers. (A formal declaration of war would have extended the terms of enlistment for volunteer soldiers.)
After arriving in Vietnam, he learns that an American base has been attacked and is ordered to take his 400 men after the enemy and eliminate the Vietnamese attackers, despite the fact that intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. He leads a newly created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley. After landing in the "Valley of Death", the soldiers learn that the location they were sent to is actually the base camp for a veteran North Vietnamese Army division of more than 4,000 men.
Upon arrival in the area with a platoon of soldiers, 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick spots a scout, runs after him, and orders reluctant soldiers to follow. The Vietnamese scout lures them into an ambush, resulting in several men of the platoon being killed, including Lt. Herrick and his subordinates. The surviving platoon members are surrounded with no chance of retreat. Sgt. Savage assumes command and calls in artillery and uses the cover of night to keep the Vietnamese from over-running their small defensive position. Meanwhile, with helicopters constantly dropping off the Cavalry units, Lt. Col. Moore manages to secure weak points before the Vietnamese can take advantage of such.
On the home front, Julia Moore (Madeleine Stowe) and a junior officer's wife (Keri Russel) object to taxi drivers delivering death notification telegrams as insensitive, then assume the role or performing next of kin notification.
On the second day, despite being trapped and desperately outnumbered, the main U.S. force manages to hold off the Vietnamese with artillery, mortars, and helicopter lifts of supplies and reinforcements. Eventually, Vietnamese commander Nguyen Huu An orders a large scale attack to completely overrun the American position.
At the point of breaking and being completely overrun by the enemy and with no option left, Moore orders 1st Lt. Charlie Hastings, his Forward Air Controller, to call in "Broken Arrow" (indicating that Moore's position is being overrun and can no longer be defended, and requesting all available combat aircraft to assist and attack enemy positions, even those close to the U.S. troops' position). The aircraft attack with bombs, napalm and machine guns, killing many PAVN and Viet Cong troops but a friendly fire incident occurs, resulting in American deaths. The second Vietnamese attack is successfully repelled and the surviving US soldiers of the stranded platoon, led by Sgt. Savage, are eventually rescued.
Moore's troops regroup, secure the area, and stop at the base of a hill, where Moore surmises the Vietnamese division headquarters is holed up in tunnels. At the same time the Vietnamese commander plans a final assault on the Americans and sends out most of his troops to carry out the attack. The Vietnamese have set up strong defense emplacements near the hidden entrance of the underground passage to the command post spoken of by the scout. Hal and his men charge right at them, into a seemingly impending massacre, but before the Vietnamese can fire, Major Bruce "Snakeshit" Crandall and other helicopter gunships attack the Vietnamese, destroying the bulk of the enemy force.
Nguyen Huu An, the Vietnamese Commander, is alerted that the Americans have broken through their lines and there are no soldiers between the Americans and their command post. Since the Commander had deployed his reserve forces to a final offensive and the base camp has no troops to call upon for defense, the Vietnamese commander quickly orders the headquarters evacuated.
Moore, having achieved his objective, returns to the L.Z. (helicopter landing zone) to be picked up. True to his speech to his soldiers before deploying, only after all of his men (including the dead and wounded) are removed from the battlefield does he step on to a helicopter and fly out of the valley.
While the Vietnamese are collecting their dead, Nguyen Huu An, holding a small damaged American flag, tells one of his officers: "Such a tragedy. They will think this was their victory. So this will become an American war. And the end will be the same, except for the numbers who will die before we get there."
At the end of the film, it is revealed that the landing zone immediately reverted to North Vietnamese hands after the American troops were airlifted out. Hal Moore continued the battle in a different landing zone, and after nearly a year he returned home safely. His superiors congratulated him for killing over 1,800 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers. The film ends with an older Moore visiting the Vietnam war memorial and a showing of the names of soldiers who fell at Ia Drang.
- Mel Gibson as Lieutenant Colonel/Colonel Hal Moore
- Madeleine Stowe as Julia Moore
- Greg Kinnear as Major Bruce P. Crandall
- Sam Elliott as Sergeant Major Basil L. Plumley
- Chris Klein as 2nd Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan
- Luke Benward as David Moore
- Taylor Momsen as Julie Moore
- Devon Werkheiser as Steve Moore
- Keri Russell as Barbara Geoghegan
- Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway
- Mark McCracken as Ed "Too Tall" Freeman
- Don Duong as NVA Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An
- Ryan Hurst as Sergeant Ernie Savage
- Marc Blucas as 2nd Lieutenant Henry Herrick
- Jsu Garcia as Captain Tony Nadal
- Jon Hamm as Captain Matt Dillon
- Clark Gregg as Captain Tom Metsker
- Blake Heron as Sp4. Galen Bungum
- Desmond Harrington as Sp4. Bill Beck
- Brian Tee as Pfc. Jimmy Nakayama
- Robert Bagnell as 1st Lieutenant Charlie Hastings, USAF
Adaptation from source material
In the source book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, Moore complains that "Every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong"; Wallace has said he was inspired by this comment and became "determined to get it right this time."
The film's final version, though getting many of the facts of the book presented onto film, does not present an entirely historically accurate portrayal of the battle, nor is it entirely faithful to the book. For instance, the film depicts a heroic charge under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore at the end of the battle that destroys the Vietnamese reserve, ending the battle in an American victory (a fact that director Randall Wallace noted in the DVD commentary); in fact, there was no heroic final charge in the book, nor were the forces of the North Vietnamese destroyed, though the American commander Moore reported 834 enemy bodies, 1215 estimated KIA, 1/3rd of the enemy force were killed to 72, out of 395, American fatal casualties (18%). Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An, the Vietnamese commander, did not see the conclusion at LZ X-Ray as the end of combat, and the Battle of Ia Drang continued the next day with combat action at LZ Albany where the 2/7th, with A Company 1/5th, found themselves in a fight for their lives against Lt Col Nguyen Huu An's reserve.
Finally, as the movie notes in a voice over by Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), the battle continued for over 300 more days.
There are as well many other historical differences in the book versus the movie; presumably to shorten the length of the movie. Some differences not shown would have demonstrated how desperate the American situation at Ia Drang was. For example, the seriousness of the overrun of C Company under the command of Capt Robert Edwards and the repulse of the final major North Vietnamese push at LZ X-Ray on the former C Company line which was then held by B Company 2/7th under the command of Capt Myron Diduryk, the Ukrainian Captain that Mel Gibson, as Col Moore, seems to claim is attached to the 1/7th. Also incorrect is the act of Capt. Ramon Nadal pushing forward and rescuing the stranded platoon of Lt. Henry Herrick, which according to the book was actually done not by one company of the 1/7th, but rather was a major push made by two companies of the 2/5th as well as B Company 1/7th.
Despite the aforementioned differences from the book and departures from historical accuracy, in a documentary included in the video versions, Gen. Moore states that this film is the first one "to get it right."
The film received mostly positive reviews. Roger Ebert, from the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the movie 3.5 stars out of 4 and praised the movie's battle scenes and how the movie follows the characters.
"Black Hawk Down" was criticized because the characters seemed hard to tell apart. "We Were Soldiers" doesn't have that problem; in the Hollywood tradition it identifies a few key players, casts them with stars, and follows their stories.
Lisa Schwarzbaum, from Entertainment Weekly, gave the movie a B and noted the film's fair treatment of both sides.
"The writer-director bestows honor – generously, apolitically – not only on the dead and still living American veterans who fought in Ia Drang, but also on their families, on their Vietnamese adversaries, and on the families of their adversaries too. Rarely has a foe been portrayed with such measured respect for a separate reality, which should come as a relief to critics (I'm one) of the enemy's facelessness in Black Hawk Down; vignettes of gallantry among Vietnamese soldiers and such humanizing visual details as a Vietnamese sweetheart's photograph left behind in no way interfere with the primary, rousing saga of a fine American leader who kept his promise to his men to "leave no one behind dead or alive."
"The films about Vietnam that most Americans remember are positively soaked in physical and emotional torment – from "Platoon," with its grunt's-eye view of combat, to "Apocalypse Now," with its exploration of war's dehumanizing insanity. Today, the pendulum has swung back again. If filmmakers with politically twisted knives once sliced away guts-and-glory clichés, their current equivalents hack away all meaningful concern with moral and political questions. "We Were Soldiers" is shameless in this regard, filling the screen with square-jawed officers who weep at carnage and fresh-faced GIs who use their last breaths to intone things like, "I'm glad I died for my country."
Todd McCarthy, from Variety, said the film "presents the fighting realistically, violently and relatively coherently given the chaotic circumstances..." McCarthy further said, "Mel Gibson has the closest thing to a John Wayne part that anyone's played since the Duke himself rode into the sunset, and he plays it damn well." He summarized with, "Gibson's performance anchors the film with commanding star power to burn. This officer truly loves his men, and the credibility with which the actor is able to express Moore's leadership qualities as well as his sensitive side is genuinely impressive."
Hal Moore, who had long been critical of many Vietnam War films for their negative portrayals of American servicemen, publicly expressed approval of the film and is featured in segments of the DVD. Some soldiers were less pleased: Retired Col Rick Rescorla, who died on 9/11 played an important role in the book, and whose photo was on the cover, was disappointed, after reading the script, to learn that he and his unit had been written out of the movie. In one key incident, the finding of a vintage French bugle on a dying Vietnamese soldier, the English-born Rescorla is replaced by a nameless Welsh platoon leader.
- "WE WERE SOLDIERS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. February 12, 2002. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "We Were Soldiers". IMDB. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
- We Were Soldiers Once, director's commentary  accessed 6 September 2010
- Getting it Right Behind the scenes of We Were Soldiers, Bonus Feature, Blu-Ray,  accessed 6 SEP 2010
- "We Were Soldiers". Metacritic. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
- "We Were Soldiers". Chicago Sun-Times. March 1, 2002.
- Schwarzbaum, Lisa (February 28, 2002). "We Were Soldiers". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-08-03.
- McCarthy, Todd (February 22, 2002). "We Were Soldiers". Variety. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
- Stewart, James B. (2002). Heart of aSoldier. Simon & Schuster: New York, p. 236.
- Maslin, Janet (November 20, 2002). "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; One Last Act of Bravery For an Intrepid Adventurer". The New York Times.
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