review for We Were Soldiers on AllMovie

We Were Soldiers (2002)
by Karl Williams review

This unabashedly patriotic, flag-waving war film nevertheless manages to avoid jingoism and present a more-balanced-than-normal view of war by delving into the mind of the enemy and depicting the struggles of wives left behind at home. Screenwriter-turned-director Randall Wallace doesn't always manage to overcome the obviousness and tendency to oversimplify that are his long-running weaknesses, and the humans driving his story should remain a bit more front-and-center than they do once the shooting starts, but he's unarguably adept at mounting complicated, large-scale battle scenes and rendering the confusing action understandable. He also displays a sure hand with his cast, particularly Mel Gibson, who does a laudable job in a stoic, heartbroken role that forbids many of the actor's usual gimmicks and goofy mannerisms. If only there was more of him; once the battle begins, the picture zooms and whip-pans from one character to the next, making it arduous for an audience trying to pin its emotional identification to any one particular person or group. Nevertheless, conveying a tangible, even tactile sense of war's brutal, grim reality has been one of the hallmarks of war films in the late '90s and early 2000s, and in this regard, Wallace's epic is no exception, depicting with shocking persuasiveness the carnage of war (a scene where a young soldier is horribly burned to the point of melting is particularly tough to watch). While it ends up in a place that's somewhat emotionally flat by the time the battle is over, We Were Soldiers is a thorough, competent, and well-produced chronicle of the Vietnam conflict's first major combat.