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DVD ReviewThe film portion of this review was written by Kevin Clemons.
We Were Soldiers is another in a recent swell of American war films that go beyond the unbridled patriotism of the past with scenes of unparalleled realism on the fields of battle. Beginning with Saving Private Ryan and the more recent Black Hawk Down, Hollywood has focused on thrusting the viewer into the chaos of the central conflict and refuses to let go until the credits roll. While the brutal assault on the senses that accompanied the opening thirty minutes of Spielberg's war epic were shocking, Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers may well be even more powerful.
Telling the story of the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry out of Ft. Benning, Georgia, We Were Soldiers focuses largely on Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Gibson) as he readies his men for the first notable American attack in Vietnam. Still stateside, Moore is assigned the task of creating a new Air Cavalry Division. With a wife (Stowe) and two small children in his life, Moore is a dedicated officer, a master at the tactics used in combat and is determined not to repeat the mistakes made by a French patrol several years earlier in the La Drang Valley.
Based on the novel We Were Soldiers Once…And Young by Moore and reporter Joseph Galloway (who himself became a combatant when his role went from journalist to soldier during the battle), the film features more heart than other recent war films. Wallace wisely introduces us to the families as well as the soldiers, so when the fighting starts and he cuts from the events in North Vietnam to those in Georgia, the viewer feels more of a connection with the characters. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued Wallace's melodramatic script for Pearl Harbor are also present here, including some painfully sentimental moments between Moore and his children before he leaves them for battle. Thankfully, the performances add a more human realty to the emotional and at times sappy dialogue.
Wallace does do a terrific job of showing both sides of the battle, rather than portraying the Viet Cong as nothing more than the faceless enemy. By doing this, the film maintains a tight connection to all its players, giving Gibson's character an adversary who is simply doing his job. The battle was neither a victory nor a defeat for either side, which allows the film to make a bold anti-war statement while it simultaneously shows the bravery and dedication of American soldiers.
Aside from the stunning visuals and truly developed characters, the performances are perhaps the picture's single greatest asset. Gibson is nothing short of terrific in the lead role, playing a sincere man who must be diligent once the fighting starts. Gibson is beginning to play this sort of role better than anyone else, as proved in the recent, undeniably brilliant Signs, and his work here rivals that of any in his long career in terms of quality. Supporting portrayals are also very strong; Madeline Stowe, Greg Kinnear, and Sam Elliott each give terrific performances in their limited screen time.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: One might be taken aback by the image quality in the initial scenes of this film, which look soft and comparable to a standard DVD at best. But that's just a flashback, and the movie proper is in more of the nature of the HD experience that the viewer expects. There's still some softness, but it has a nicely filmlike appearance. Grain is very heavy, though it's stable and well-rendered, and neither sparkles nor shimmers. Instead, it gives a gritty realism and intensity to the experience. Colors are excellent, with the many various greens being subtly differentiated. One shot of the choppers against the Vietnamese sunset is gorgeous and dripping with fully-saturated color.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The DD+ 5.1 track has an enormous impact, and is substantially more effective than the companion DTS 6.1 track. The mix is incredibly immersive, whether you're in Fort Benning or the jungles of Vietnam. Helicopters buzz overhead with precision that will make you duck your head, and bullets whiz past to put you right in the middle of the action. It's highly intense, and serves the presentation extremely well.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Randall Wallace
Extras Review: All of the extras from the standard DVD are ported over to the HD-DVD, and for good measure Paramount adds a high-definition trailer, a very nice touch that's much appreciated.
A commentary by writer/director Randall Wallace leads off a short, but thorough list of extra features. The track is informative in the way that the director covers nearly every aspect of the production in a detailed yet interesting manner. From his praise of his cast to the way his editor and cinematographer helped in creating effective sequences, with this track, Wallace proves to be one of the better commentators that I have ever heard, especially when discussing the differences between novel and film. He also discusses what had to be trimmed from the script in order to make a compelling picture.
A selection of ten deleted scenes are offered and many are rightfully cut from the finished feature, including a fight between Kinnear and another pilot. One scene—quite informative and one I feel adds a sense of closure missing from the final cut—involves Moore discussing the battle with the Secretary of Defense, claiming that there was no victor; that his opposition fought just as hard and believed in their cause as much as the American forces did. These scenes are also available with commentary by Wallace.
Finally, an almost 30-minute documentary is offered and proves to be very interesting. Focusing on the actors as well as the filmmakers, it goes through every stage of production, from boot camp to the use of special effects in the film. This is more than just an extended trailer and is worth a watch.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsWe Were Soldiers is both horrifying in its depiction of war and touching when focused on the human condition, a stunning achievement for the genre. Highly recommended.
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