Hal Moore’s daughter just made a funny. For a 1960s tot, she’s quite the radical—it’s prayer time and she wants to be a Methodist, not a Catholic. She’s the kind of little girl that only exists in movies, a curious know-it-all that asks the big questions (“Daddy, what’s war?”) just in time for tuck-in. Mom, though, is just as much a cliché, a book-before-bed Cosmo girl whose Tupperware parties turn into impromptu racial debates. Randall Wallace’s Americana is not unlike the one he scribed for Bay’s Pearl Harbor—dialogue is an ad slogan (“I’m here to help orphans, not make them”) and faith and family-singing are trumpeted as signifiers for wholesomeness. Where Oliver Stone smashed this apple pie mentality with Born on the Fourth of July, Wallace merely reaffirms its naivete with his own cornball obliviousness.
Hal (Mel Gibson) fought in Korea, bemoans the loss of troops in Indonesia and now burns the midnight oil strategizing anti-massacre plans for his Vietnam troop. While Hal’s prevention angst is more than obvious, Wallace freely provides simple-minded context clues via the man’s notepad. While the film’s first half is downright preposterous, Hal’s brigade hits the battlefield and We Were Soldiers turns into a relentless war procedural not unlike Black Hawk Down. Wallace sprays the film’s troops with fire and bullets—the effect is bloody, mind numbing and certainly powerful but We Were Soldiers seems particularly redundant after the far superior Black Hawk Down. If Wallace is trying to up the Saving Private Ryan ante, he certainly never transcends the 101-ways-to-maim-and-kill-a-soldier fireworks.
Wallace does great things with Native American myth yet there’s no real flair to his visual palette. As if laying claim to the image dissolve, Wallace fashions a ludicrous back-in-America montage out of grieving widows, American flags and lengthy walks home. The film’s “illumination” scenes are effective if not morally questionable for treating a surprise attack on American soldiers as a set piece straight out of a boogey-man horror flick. And while the film’s enemies are considerably less ghoulish than Bay’s Pearl Harbor lot, Wallace continues to render humanity via simple-minded, Asians-have-girlfriends-too philosophy. Still, the relatively apolitical We Were Soldiers is genuine and sensitive enough that it can be forgiven for turning Gibson’s Hall into a hero not unlike Michael Landon doing the Little War on the Prairie.