War is hell. Any good soldier will tell you that. But Lt. Col. Harold Moore (Mel Gibson) wants his soldiers to know they are fighting not only for their country but also for each other. Moore and his right-hand man the tough-as-nails Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott) well train their men who include the idealistic 2nd Lt. Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein) and the cocky helicopter pilot Maj. Bruce Crandall (Greg Kinnear). Moore’s wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe) acts as the leader for the wives on the base helping them cope with what their husbands are about to face. When Moore gets his orders to go into Vietnam he knows it may be an impossible situation. He tells his men the only way to survive is to watch each other’s backs–and that he’ll be the first one in and the last one out. What he doesn’t know once they get to Ia Drang is that his men are terribly outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. The bloody battle that ensues kills many men on both sides but thanks to Moore’s sheer willpower and strategic know-how he and his men make it out to tell the story.
Besides some pretty lame dialogue in parts the performances are all solid. Gibson knows this terrain very well. Let’s see this makes what the fourth war movie Gibson has done in his career? He’s fought in just about all of them–World War I (Gallipoli) Revolutionary (The Patriot) apocalyptic (The Road Warrior) and well Braveheart–and now Vietnam. Moore is a just the kind of great combat leader we envision–strong fair emotional–and Gibson embodies him to a tee but it’s just not much of a stretch. Elliot is particularly good as the grouchy Plumley delivering some of the only humorous lines in the film. Klein falls into his sweet-guy persona easily and turns on the sap when it’s needed. Unfortunately this may be the only thing Klein will be able to do in his career. The always good Barry Pepper comes off as the most genuine as journalist Joe Galloway who witnesses these soldiers bravely fighting for their lives. Pepper isn’t new to the war game either having brilliantly played the religious sharpshooter in Saving Private Ryan. The women are fairly wasted but Stowe and Keri Russell as Jack’s wife have a touching moment delivering death telegrams to the wives on the base.
Based on the best-selling novel by the real-life Lt. Col. Harold Moore and Joe Galloway Soldiers is a war film through and through. Writer/director Randall Wallace (writer of Braveheart) once again teams up with Gibson to give the overall picture of what being a soldier is like juggling home and family with sense of duty. Yet the scenes on the home front turn into pure mush most of the time (“Daddy what is war?”) and get very preachy (“Watch the back of the man next to you as he will watch yours and you won’t care what color he is…”). Luckily we get to the heart of the movie quickly–the 1965 conflict in Ia Drang the first one fought between the Americans and the North Vietnamese. It’s horrifying. It’s gruesome. It’s real–and we’ve seen it done a thousand times before. In this day and age where we’ve seen every known war played out in Technicolor on the big screen we have become desensitized by it. Soldiers does an admirable job but after seeing films like Saving Private Ryan or Platoon it doesn’t hold up.