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We Were Soldiers (2002, Mel Gibson, Greg Kinnear)

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Few things demonstrate the zeitgeist better than war movies. The liberal lobby – from Platoon to Three Kings – has gone, replaced by flag-wrapped salutes like Black Hawk Down and Behind Enemy Lines . We Were Soldiers has a foot in both camps, making it one of the most interesting contributions to a bloated genre.

American army chiefs begin to commit troops to Vietnam in 1964, starting with Lt Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) and his Air Calvary Division. Training begins, and Moore’s wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe) joins the army wives to see the men off to battle. Arriving in South Vietnam they are assigned a search-and-destroy mission on rural land. Another platoon spots the enemy and gives chase, unaware they are heading toward a stronghold of the North Vietnamese army. Stranded under fire, the pressure is on for Moore’s men, who fortify their position and begin a long, intense battle to save their comrades. It is the first of many such encounters in a brutal conflict…

Like the ominous gunships aimed at the jungle, one name hovers above this production: John Ford. The sympathetic portrayal of the enemy, and the gradual realisation that patriotism has an agenda, are straight from Ford’s workbook, and there are strong echoes of his 1945 film They Were Expendable . A seditious streak is briefly visible, in recreating the heartless – and historically accurate – practice of getting Yellow Cab drivers to deliver bereavement notices, but then Randall Wallace’s film settles into less controversial mode in keeping with his star’s recent efforts. Gibson brings baggage from Braveheart and The Patriot to this role, armed with the rhetoric and reality of battle. Like any good leader, he dominates, but Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper (who also served in Saving Private Ryan ) are worthy of mentions in dispatches.

production details
USA | 138 minutes | 2002

Director: Randall Wallace
Script: Randall Wallace, Harold G. Moore, Joseph L. Galloway, John Mann

cast
Mel Gibson as Lt. Col. Hal Moore
Greg Kinnear as Maj. Bruce ‘Snake’ Crandall
Madeleine Stowe as Julie Moore
Sam Elliott as Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley
Chris Klein as 2nd Lt. Jack Geoghegan
Keri Russell as Barbara Geoghegan
Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway
Clark Gregg as Capt. Tom Metsker
Marc Blucas as 2nd Lt. Henry Herrick
Jsu Garcia as Capt. Tony Nadal
Robert Bagnell as 1st Lt. Charlie Hastings
Blake Heron as Sp4 Galen Bungum
Josh Daugherty as Sp4 Robert Ouellette
Jon Hamm as Capt. Matt Dillon
Dylan Walsh as Capt. Robert Edwards
Erik MacArthur as Sp4 Russell Adams
Mark McCracken as Capt. Ed ‘Too Tall’ Freeman
Desmond Harrington as Sp4 Bill Beck
Đơn Dương as Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An
Ryan Hurst as Sgt. Ernie Savage
Brian Tee as Pfc. Jimmy Nakayama
Sloane Momsen as Cecile Moore
Bellamy Young as Catherine Metsker
Simbi Khali as Alma Givens
Jim Grimshaw as Maj. Gen. Henry Kinnard
Forry Smith as Sfc. Carl Palmer
Steven Nelson as Sp5 Charlie ‘Doc’ Lose
Vincent Angell as Capt. Robert ‘Doc’ Carrera
Michael Tomlinson as Col. Tim Brown
Keith Szarabajka as Diplomatic Spook
Tim Abell as Army Intelligence Officer
Patrick St. Esprit as General in Hallway
Mike White as Sfc. Bob White, Mortar Sergeant
Daniel Roebuck as Medevac CO
Dan Beene as Cab Driver
Taylor Momsen as Daughter Julie Moore
Devon Werkheiser as Steve Moore
Luke Benward as David Moore
Vien Hong as Mr. Nik
Joseph Hieu as NVA Officer
Shepard Koster as Reporter
Stephen Zapotoczny as Edwards’ Radio Operator
Ben Allison as Lt. Cochran (uncredited)
Brian Carpenter as Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara (uncredited)
George Cheung as NVA Officer (uncredited)
Brendan Ford as Jump Coordinator (uncredited)
Justin Gordon as French Officer (uncredited)
Shannon M. Hart as Army Wife (uncredited)
Will Klipstine as Private Davey (uncredited)
Danny Le Boyer as Sergeant (uncredited)
Matt Mangum as Pvt. Soprano (uncredited)
Johnny Trí Nguyễn as Young NVA Lieutenant (uncredited)
Randy Oglesby as Lt. Col. List (uncredited)
Jonathan Parks Jordan as White Private (uncredited)

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