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On November 14 1965, Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) lead American troops in their first major engagement with North Vietnamese forces. Outnumbered 5 to 1 by the enemy, Moore's 400 men fought for 56 hours at the battle of Ia Drang. This account is based on the novel We Were Soldiers Once...and Young by Lt General Hal Moore.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
As a tribute to men who fought and died in war, We Were Soldiers is sincere and very effective. Randall Wallace's film of Lt Gen. Hal Moore's book has no other mission than to move us with this account of a battle that marked the real start of a war America is still trying to come to terms with. Depending on what you want from a film set in the Vietnam war (or the American War as the Vietnamese call it) its dedication to a single theme may not be sufficient to pull you through 138 minutes. There's not much political analysis or critique of America's role in Vietnam here and the North Vietnamese enemy are glimpsed only rarely - and respectfully it must be noted. This is purely about the boys who served and the women they left behind and goes to painstaking lengths to be as accurate as possible.

Randall Wallace's commentary and the 'making of' documentary, Getting It Right, are dominated by references to the detailed reconstruction of the 56 hour battle in which Col Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) made a pledge to be 'the first man on the field and the last man off it'. Everything from actual words spoken by soldiers who died to the use of exact weapons they fought with are mentioned.

All of us who groan in war movies when a dying soldier says 'tell my wife I love her' can think again because this is overwhelmingly what mortally wounded men do in fact say. Wallace's reverential tone and cataloguing of every minor detail will please anyone interested in the specifics of combat but may grow tiresome for others. Like me, you may wish this film and the DVD extras went further in contextualising this military engagement but that's simply not what We Were Soldiers is here to do.

What's impressive from any perspective is the 'Scope transfer of Dean Semler's beautifully shot images and the excellent surround sound mix. Who cares about trailers and TV spots but the deleted scenes are really worthwhile and benefit greatly from Wallace's impassioned explanations of why each was cut.

The inclusion of rare archival footage and appearances by Hal Moore himself, Randall Wallace, Mel Gibson and Dean Semler also make the documentary well worth a look. We Were Soldiers may not tell us much about the political and economic factors behind the major conflict of the post WW2 world but it demonstrates as well as any other film that war is indeed hell and the men who fell deserve respect.

Published November 7, 2002

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CAST: Mel Gibson, Chris Klein, Sam Elliott, Madeleine Stowe, Barry Pepper, Greg Kinnear, Don Duang.

DIRECTOR: Randall Wallace

RUNNING TIME: 138minutes

PRESENTATION: aspect ratio 2.35:1; audio: Dolby 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with Director Randall Wallace, 9 Deleted Scenes, Documentary 'Getting it Right', Trailer, TV Spots. Language: English. Subtitles: English, English (H.O.H)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: November 6, 2002

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