Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Soldiers' Shines in and out of Battle Best War Film since 'Saving Private Ryan'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Soldiers' Shines in and out of Battle Best War Film since 'Saving Private Ryan'

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel, Times-Union movie writer

Mel Gibson hasn't had a role that fits him this well since he stepped into his Braveheart kilts -- or perhaps even since he pulled on his Road Warrior leathers.

In We Were Soldiers, he's Lt. Col. Hal Moore, a soldier with a weathered face, stocky body and a deep, no-nonsense Southern growl. Gibson's an icon himself by now, and he makes an icon out of Moore, a solid block of American stubbornness and humanity who swears that he'll be the first among his men to step on the field of battle, the last one to step off.

Gibson is the life force behind We Were Soldiers, a big, devastating war movie about a big, devastating battle -- the battle of Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley in the highlands of Vietnam. It was November 1965, and 400 U.S. soldiers faced several thousand North Vietnamese in the first major battle involving U.S. forces.

There didn't seem to be much wisdom behind the venture -- the soldiers were helicoptered to a remote field with sketchy goals, facing a force of unknown power.

The movie doesn't make a big deal out of it, but it does leave you wondering: Just what were they hoping to do there?

Instead, just like Black Hawk Down, it focuses on the bravery of the Americans under fire. But unlike Black Hawk Down, it also gives some humanity to the enemy; it takes pain to show that they were soldiers, too.

We Were Soldiers is based on a book written by the real-life Moore and the real-life Joe Galloway, a reporter (played by Barry Pepper) who witnessed -- and eventually participated in -- the battle.

The film is a rousing triumph for writer/director Randall Wallace, who wrote the script for Gibson's Braveheart. It's not always an easy film to watch -- you'll likely be drained by the end of it -- but it's clearly the best war film since Saving Private Ryan, with the same grunt's-eye view of the battle.

It's bloody, and death is sudden.

We Were Soldiers follows Moore and his soldiers through training at Fort Benning, Ga. …

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