Wow, this movie is one of the best movies of all time, and I rank it right up there next to Courageous. This is the last movie I saw on the Manassass trip, I saw it on the bus ride home, hunkered over dads laptop with the earbuds in at the max volume. But with no further ado, lets get down to the review.
This is based on a true story. There is a infamous valley in Vietnam, that every unit that has gone into was absolutely shredded and killed to a man. Nobody has been able to ever take this valley. Gibson and his air cavalry unit get the unwanted job of taking this valley. They air drop in, and almost as soon as they are all in, all hell breaks loose. They are surrounded, out-numbered and out-gunned, less than 400 to roughly 2000. After three ghastly days of fighting, they charge the enemies lines and take the field. They pressed so close the Vietnamese evacuated their headquarters, located up the hill from the valley. An incredible story of manhood, endurance, leadership, and making sure every man, dead or alive, is off the field.
This movie stunned me in many ways. The hero is not a rough, roguish, lone-wolf commando who bosses everybody around and by sheer boss-power wins the day. He is a family man, with a faith in God (he's Catholic, I won't divulge my opinion here) walking alongside his kids and loving his wife. He is a fabulous leader, who men love to follow, who cares about his troops. He has his famous line he says once in the movie that about summaries' his whole war philosophy.
"I am the first one to set foot on the field, and the last one to leave it. And dead or alive, all my men will come home."He sticks to this phrase, and indeed does get off the chopper first into the valley; dead or alive, all of his men leave; and he is the last one, after taking one last look around, to set foot on the chopper out. An incredible leader with incredible courage.
I said it once, but this part surprised me so much I must repeat it. He is FAMILY MAN. Not perfect, by any means, but a man who cares for and takes care of his family, and makes sure his soldiers love and take care of their families. Several scenes make this very clear through it. One, a soldier who is a brand new dad, was wearing a bracelet that had his new daughters name on it. When Gibson walks into the empty church where the soldier was sitting, the soldier apologizes for it and goes to take it off. Gibson tells his not to apologize and ORDERS him to leave it on. The soldier, a bit confused, obeys. Later in the movie, he dies still wearing it. Super sad scene.
He has a faith in God. Very odd twist here. He is Catholic, so he says the Catholic prayers with his kids, but still believes you can come straight to God to pray. Very odd, but very nice touch. There are some cute scenes when he's praying with his kids, that also show how he handles his wife. He is tucking the kids in, and they are saying their scripted prayers, but one little girl doesn't. He asks why. She says, "I wanna be a nethidist like mamma so I can pray whatever I want" said in typical four-year-old voice. One of the older boys replies that that is sin, to which the dad says that God just made her hard-headed, and isn't a sin. He then lets her pray for safety the family while they say their regular prayers.
After the kids are in their room, his wife is laying in bed, giggling. He asks whats up. She says,
"Does it ever occur to you that any of your kids faults come from you?"She says it lovingly and kindly, with no malice intended. He pretends to get mad and dogpiles on the bed and grabs her, and gives her a big hug. He says,
"When I pray whatever I want, I thank God for you."
He also believes that we can come to God when we wish and pray, an odd touch for a "Catholic". After he orders that one soldier to keep his bracelet on, the soldier expresses that he is scared about the upcoming deployment and fight. Gibson says something to the effect of "well, lets go talk to God about it", and getting up, walks to the altar at the front of the church and prays for safety and protection for himself and his troops.
The message that is meant to be portrayed is one of respect and honor for those who fought and died, who little or no respect for what they did and who they are is ever shown. I never knew the level of respect due to them till I saw this movie, and considering I had just met a Vietnam Vet in Mannassas, it was even more flooring.
Cussing, and lots of it. In one scene even the wife of Gibson cusses at the mailman who gives her a scare. I was very annoyed by that. I mean, for a war movie, the soldiers cussing is sorta expected, but the girl doing it ticked me off.
Gibson is a little bit unaversalist. In his prayer with his soldier, he mentions that all soldiers, the Viets and the Americans, will all be coming to God, calling Him different names, to ask for protection and victory, before the upcoming battle. He asks for protection and asks that God ignores the Viets prayers and lets the Americans send them straight to hell. Crummy theology.
EXTREME graphic violence. The only reason I rate this in the BAD section, is because then it is not a whole family movie. For anyone who can stomach it, and I believe every young man should be able to stomach serious violence, it is stunning and well worth it. If you can't, don't even think of watching this movie. You will be sick as soon as the movie starts. The opening scene is with a french unit getting slaughtered in the same valley years before.
Also, one interesting fact, I watched the special features, and learned that almost none of the blood, explosions and dirt and dust, were CG'ed. They were all filmed, scripted and done with precision timing, and dummy blood, being able to get the scene(s) in one or two takes. Interesting side note.
Some humor. There is a hysterical and foul-mouthed sergeant played by Sam Elliot, named Sgt. Plumley, with the typical cranky sergeant attitude, who is rough, tough, and pessimistic, but it is handled in a hysterical way.
Over all Rating. 4.95 stars. The .05 out is because of the cussing, but I don't overrate it because its a war movie, so I give it some grace. Heartily recommended for anyone who can stomach violence and language.