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Saturday February 4th

'We Were Soldiers' Resurrects Power of Love During Vietnam War


5 Stars

For the past 20 years, Hollywood has been trying to do the Vietnam War justice. And every time they've missed the mark.

Enter "We Were Soldiers." In one fell swoop, director Randall Wallace has finally set the record straight on the Vietnam War.

Based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," the film gives us a brutal, straightforward look at two groups of fighting men, their descent into the hell of combat and their struggle to survive.

Mel Gibson trades in his broadsword and musket for an M-16 as the heroic Col. Hal Moore, commanding officer of the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry Regiment.

His underlings run the gamut of war movie standards -- Chris Klein plays Lt. Geohegan, a young officer with a family on the way and a mind full of questions about his dual role as father and soldier. Sam Elliot is the crusty Sgt. Plumley, a steely-eyed curmudgeon who becomes a machine of death on the battlefield.

And Barry Pepper portrays journalist Joe Galloway, a daredevil correspondent faced for the first time with the horrors of combat.

Trite as the roles may be, sheer acting ability lets this stellar cast bring new life and humanity to their "it's been done" characters.

Moore swaps from dedicated family man to well-honed killer like he's flipping a switch. While the dialogue between him and his family is a bit forced, the rest of his performance is heartfelt and believable.

Although the film centers on Moore and his family, the rest of the characters undergo similar transformations over the course of the movie, changing from fathers and husbands to angels of death.

And, as is the nature of war, there is plenty of death to be dealt over the course of the film.

Upon completing their training, husbands and fathers kiss their wives and children goodbye and embark for the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, where two thousand North Vietnamese soldiers are waiting for them.

The ensuing battle is utterly horrific. Napalm cooks flesh into blackened jelly, and flying lead turns soldiers into hamburgers. Nighttime skirmishes are unbearably tense, with only the occasional flare or explosion to provide a telling look of what's lurking in the darkness.

More than just mind-numbing combat, "We Were Soldiers" gives what is possibly the best look at the shock waves of tragedy that ripple out from the battlefield. As the casualties mount, wives and children are greeted at the door by an innocuous Western Union envelope.

More than any of its predecessors, "We Were Soldiers" is honest. No Hollywood rubbish, no patriotic veneer, just men fighting and dying for one another.

In one of the final scenes, when Galloway approaches a tearful Moore and shakily declares, "I don't know how to tell this story," a stoic Moore answers simply, "Tell them how my troopers died."

And "We Were Soldiers" finally tells that story, writing it in the blood of lost soldiers and the tears of their grieving loved ones.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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