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WE WERE SOLDIERS

"Youíve got to tell the American people what happened here," says Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore (Mel Gibson) to UPI reporter Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper) at the height of the Vietnam Warís first and bloodiest engagement, the Battle of Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. Years later, the two would collaborate and do so, not in this fulsome, trite, exploitative movie but in their Pulitzer-winning account, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young. In the fine Hollywood tradition of A Beautiful Mind, writer/director Randall Wallace keeps the title of the book (or most of it) and the names and a few facts and fabricates the rest or transforms it into the hoariest and most transparently manipulative clichés.

Gibsonís Moore is a demigod, a devout Catholic husband and father (when heís not speechifying or shouting orders or leading the charge, heís praying) of five who shines his patriarchal aura onto the newly formed First Air Cavalry, the helicopter-riding troopers who would transform modern warfare. Donít ask why (Mooreís daughter does, and even sheís unconvinced by the explanation), but they end up in Vietnamís Central Highlands facing an enemy three times their size. With superior firepower, incredible courage, and canny tactics they survive, but little of the tension, horror, bravery, and cool-headed strategy comes through the bullshit and bravado of Wallaceís lugubrious, hamfisted direction (in one of the most astonishing cuts in recent memory, the action shifts from US troops mowing down the enemy to a close-up of Mooreís Stepford wife, played by Madeleine Stowe, vacuuming). Unlike Black Hawk Down, which gets all the details right but passes on the politics, this passes on the politics, screws the facts, and goes directly to the unreflected flagwaving fervor. Itís a latter-day The Green Berets but without honesty, innocence, or John Wayne.

BY PETER KEOUGH

Issue Date: February 28 - March 7, 2002
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