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|
|Edited by||William Hoy|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$114.7 million|
We Were Soldiers is a 2002 American war film directed by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson. Based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young (1992) by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, it dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965.
A French unit on patrol in Vietnam in 1954, during the final year of the First Indochina War, is ambushed by Viet Minh forces, probably the Battle of Mang Yang Pass. Viet Minh commander Nguyen Huu An (Đơn Dương) orders his soldiers to "kill all they send, and they will stop coming".
Eleven years later, the United States is fighting the Vietnam War. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is chosen to train and lead a battalion. 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 North Vietnamese attackers, despite the fact that intelligence has no idea of the number of enemy troops. Moore leads a newly created air cavalry unit into the Ia Drang Valley. After landing, the soldiers capture a North Vietnamese soldier and learn from him that the location they were sent to is actually the base camp for a veteran North Vietnamese army division of 4,000 men.
Upon arrival in the area with a platoon of soldiers, 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick (Marc Blucas) spots an enemy scout and runs after him, ordering his reluctant soldiers to follow. The scout lures them into an ambush, resulting in several men being killed, including Herrick and his subordinates. The surviving platoon members are surrounded and cut off from the rest of the battalion. Sgt. Savage (Ryan Hurst) assumes command, calls in artillery, and uses the cover of night to keep the Vietnamese from overrunning their defensive position.
Meanwhile, with helicopters constantly dropping off units, Moore manages to secure weak points before the North Vietnamese can take advantage of them. Despite being trapped and desperately outnumbered, the main U.S. force manages to hold off the North Vietnamese with artillery, mortars, and helicopter airlifts of supplies and reinforcements. Eventually, Nguyen Huu An, the commander of the North Vietnamese division, orders a large-scale attack on the American position.
At the point of being overrun by the enemy, Moore orders 1st Lt. Charlie Hastings (Robert Bagnell), his Forward Air Controller, to call in "Broken Arrow" (a call for all available combat aircraft to assist and attack enemy positions, even those close to the U.S. troops' position, because a position is being overrun and can no longer be defended). The aircraft attack with bombs, napalm, and machine guns, killing many PAVN and Viet Cong troops; but a friendly fire incident also results in American deaths. The North Vietnamese attack is repelled, and the surviving soldiers of Herrick's cut-off platoon, including Savage, are rescued.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, Julia Moore (Madeleine Stowe) has become the leader of the American wives living on the base. When the Army begins to use yellow cab drivers to deliver telegrams notifying the next of kin of soldiers' deaths in combat, Julia personally assumes that emotional responsibility instead.
Moore's troops regroup and secure the area. Nguyen Huu An plans a final assault on the Americans and sends most of his troops to carry out the attack, but Moore and his men overrun them and approach the enemy command center. Before the base camp guards can open fire, Major Bruce "Snake" Crandall (Greg Kinnear) and others helicopter gunships attack, destroying the remnant of the enemy force. With no more troops to call on, Huu An quickly orders the headquarters evacuated.
Having achieved his objective, Moore returns to the helicopter landing zone to be picked up. Only after everyone (including the dead and wounded) is removed from the battlefield does he fly out of the valley. Some time later, Nguyen Huu An and his men arrive on the battlefield to collect their dead. He claims that the Americans will "think this was their victory. So this will become an American war."
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 returns home safely to Julia and his family. His superiors congratulate him for killing over 1,800 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers. An older Moore visits the Vietnam War memorial and looks at the names of the 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 Captain Ed "Too Tall" Freeman
- Đơn Dương as NVA Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Hữu 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
- Dylan Walsh as Capt. Robert Edwards
- Brian Tee as Pfc. Jimmy Nakayama
- Robert Bagnell as 1st Lieutenant Charlie Hastings, USAF
- Bellamy Young as Catherine LaPlante Metsker
- Patrick St. Esprit as Maj. Gen. Henry E. Emerson
- Jim Grimshaw as Maj. Gen. Harry Kinnard
Adaptation from source material
In the source book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, Hal Moore complains that "Every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong"; director Randall 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, is not entirely a 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 North Vietnamese forces destroyed, though the American commander Moore reported 834 enemy bodies and 1215 estimated KIA (one-third of the enemy force) while the US forces were reduced by 72 out of 395, with 18% fatal casualties. 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.
Despite the differences from the book and departures from historical accuracy, Moore states in a documentary included in the video versions that this film is the first one "to get it right".
The film received mostly positive reviews. Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave We Were Soldiers 3.5 stars out of 4, and praised its truthful and realistic battle scenes and how it 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 film a B and noted its 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, wrote the film "presents the fighting realistically, violently and relatively coherently given the chaotic circumstances..." McCarthy further wrote, "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 played an important role in the book and was pictured on the cover (and later died in the September 11 attacks), was disappointed, after reading the script, to learn that he and his unit had been written out of the film. 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.
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