Rethinking Paradigms

We Were Soldiers

starring Mel Gibson

To be honest, it’s hard to go wrong with a movie starring Mel Gibson or in any way involving him. This one is no exception. For those who have read We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young by Lt. Col. Harold Moore, USMC (ret.), this is the movie based on that book and which Moore said was the most realistic, intelligent, soldier-oriented movie on Vietnam he’s ever witnessed.

The story details the battle of Ia Drang, one of the first and most pivotal of battles in Vietnam. The movie doesn’t get into politics, reasons for this-or-that, etc. Instead, it chronicles the lives of the soldiers who fought in that battle, their families, and how the war affected them for good or ill. Ia Drang lasted for several days in which the battle-tested, well-equipped, and well-situated North Vietnamese Army attempted to oust the Americans and their brand new, never-before-tested air combat troops.

The movie shows the bravery, the folly, and the horrible power of modern war. Mel Gibson does an excellent job playing the role of a seasoned combat colonel who leads the way Patton lead: from the front. Unlike Patton, however, Lt C. Moore allowed feelings to show, humanity to exist, and camaraderie to exist in his command. Gibson’s command of facial expression and eye contact with the camera do an excellent job where mere words could not.

The players in this film are all top-notch. Most of them are recognizable from other films. An unexpected Madeline Stowe (famous for her role in Last of the Mohicans) does a beyond-exemplary job of supporting actor as Moore’s wife, who must do what he does, except at home. She personally takes responsibility for the wives of those soldiers under Moore’s command, even delivering the horrid Army telegrams of death.

Another excellent supporting actor, playing the hardball versus Moore’s more sensitive leadership style, is Sam Elliott as Moore’s second. He’s hard nosed in a (realistic) R. Lee Ermey kind of way, but without all the continual yelling. He has a strong presence and uses that to the utmost. In this movie, he shows sensitivity and intelligence, but visibly curbs his feelings to get his job done.

Finally, the “embedded reporter” (embedded more or less by accident, it turns out) John Galloway (co-author of the book), played by Barry Pepper, is well-cast and definitely well-played. Although probably not quite as important to the story as are Gibson, Stowe, and Elliott, it is at least worth seeing that Pepper is overshadowed by greatness and it’s nothing against his own abilities.

Definitely a great movie and well worth watching. It’s extremely realistic and violent, so it’s probably not for the skittish, but if you can handle the realism, it’s one of the best movies you’ll see. Ever. Even a Gibson-hater on says she enjoyed the movie despite his starring role.