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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 17:54 GMT
Soldiers flies Stars and Stripes
Mel Gibson as Colonel Hal Moore
Mel Gibson stars in this "patriotic advert"
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By the BBC's Richard Hayden

Wars never end. By the time the armies get home, the moviemakers are already recreating them.

While one side is showing audiences how it should have won, the other side is showing how glorious and vindicated it was in victory.

At least, that is how it used to be. More recently, war films have become more sober considerations of the horrors of combat.

While this approach makes for a more harrowing viewer experience, it is undoubtedly a more mature attitude to the most catastrophic of man-made creations.

Mel Gibson with director Randall Wallace
Wallace does attempt to address the post-Vietnam fallout
Enter Randall Wallace to take us back to square one.

With an unusually heavy hand, the Braveheart and Pearl Harbor scriptwriter wields the camera for the first time to direct We Were Soldiers - the story of the first major engagement of the Vietnam war.

Mel Gibson stars as Colonel Hal Moore in this patriotic advert for the US Army.

As with much of Wallace's work, the politics are simplified to the point of absurdity, which makes things difficult when creating a film about Vietnam, a war that, more than any other, revolved around politics.

The Vietnam War was the most vehement expression of US cultural imperialism and even the Americans have the good grace to admit it was a mistake.

Yet, here we are in a new century making films that claim there was nothing wrong with the US fighting in that country.

We Were Soldiers
The battle scenes are extensive and horrific
In fairness, Wallace does attempt to address the post-Vietnam fallout, such as the resentment met by returning veterans and the callous distribution of telegrams to war widows.

But even these are shot with the red, white and blue fluttering in the background. All suggestions that war might be a bad thing are crudely juxtaposed with strong messages that there is no finer, nobler brotherhood than professional soldiery.

The nuts and bolts of the film are competent. Moore and his boys are trained in the art of helicopter deployment and are soon whisked off to Vietnam.

As soon as they arrive they are sent into the notorious Ia Drang Valley to knock out an enemy outpost.

On landing, they soon find themselves pinned down by a vast force of enemy troops. What follows is the tale of how Moore battles to keep his men alive until the helicopters can get them out again.

The battle scenes are extensive and often horrific. They include a vast array of elaborate special effect sequences, some innovative photography but some ill-advised shots.

However, the message running through We Were Soldiers is too laboured and too sentimental. Above all, it is too patriotic.

We Were Soldiers is on general release in the UK from 8 March.

See also:

08 Mar 02 | Reviews
We Were Soldiers: Your views
12 Mar 02 | Reviews
We Were Soldiers: Press views
25 May 01 | Reviews
Pearl Harbor sinks fast
20 Jul 99 | UK
Hero's Hollywood make-over
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