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The movie opens in 1966 as we see a beat up Robert Deniro, sitting at an airport television set watching a news report of a navy dive team being sent down in the Mediterranean Sea to find an A-bomb that was somehow left at the bottom of the sea. Deniro is being escorted by 2 navy men as it seems that he had been awol.

We then cut to about 25 years earlier as we see a young Carl Brashear, living in poverty as his share cropping father is sweating it out on the field. His father is very inspirational and preaches to young Carl about doing and being the best.

A few years later, Truman has integrated the Navy and Carl, now played by Cuba Gooding Jr enlists. Unfortunately, black men in the Navy were pretty much limited to being cooks.

While taking a break on a ship in the south Pacific, Cuba decides to take a swim with the other sailors. No black were allowed in the water with the white sailors so Cuba is ordered back on board. Instead he swims out to a buoy and is chased by another sailor. Cuba is such a fast swimmer that he easily beats the sailor and is noticed by one of the officers on board. He is promoted to seaman.

While in his new capacity, Cuba watches as Robert Deniro, a master chief diver, disobeys orders and rescues a diver that is about to drown. Deniro injures his lungs but saves the man. His commanding officer is so upset at Deniro disobeying him that he has Deniro demoted to Diving School teacher. In watching Deniro in action however, Cuba realizes that that is exactly what he wants to be.

With the help of his immediate officer, Cuba 2 years later enters Diving school with Deniro as his drill seargent-like teacher.

Cuba excels in everything except for the written tests. With his poor upbringing, he only has a 7th grade education. He goes to the library and there he meets Jo, who tutors him and they eventually fall in love and get married.

Cuba is one of 4 men that reaches the final stage of the class. The final exam is to go underwater, find and assemble pieces of a pump. It doesn't matter how long you take, just that you complete it. Hal Holbrook plays the commanding officer of the school and will do anything in his power to see that Cuba does not graduate. He orders Deniro to make sure Cuba fails. Cuba finds the parts instantly but when he calls up for the tools, the tool bag is sabotaged and they scatter all over the sea floor.

The other 3 divers finish their test in about 3 hours but Cuba has to search the dark, freezing water for the tools. Just as they are about to pull him up thinking he may be dead, the completed pump part appears. After 9 hours, he has passed his final exam.

Cuba gets his diving assignment in Virginia. While there, a they get notice of an atomic bomb that has been grounded on the bottom of the Mediterranean sea. He gets sent out to locate it. The first country that finds it gets to keep it and there is a race with the Russians to locate it.

While underwater searching, Cuba's line gets caught up with a Russian sub and he is nearly killed. He escapes however and in all the commotion, finds the bomb. He is a hero.

Back on the boat however, while hoisting the bomb up, some of the lines get snagged and the hoist breaks. As pieces start scattering and flying all about, Cuba pushes some of his fellow divers out of the way but in doing so, gets hit in the leg . The lower part of his leg is destroyed and he will be forced to retire.

Deniro is in rehab to battle his alcoholism. He never could get over being demoted. In fact, he was demoted again after getting into a fight at a party with the same officer that demoted him earlier in the film.

While in rehab, he reads about Cuba and his leg. Deniro sends him an article about an air force officer that had his leg amputated and with the help of a prosthetic, was able to fly again.

Cuba reads this and decides to have his unusable leg amputated and replaced with a prosthetic one. He asks the navy to be reinstated but they refuse. Finally, Deniro brings the press to the office of the man in charge of naval personnel. He's the same officer that demoted Deniro earlier. With the press wanting answers, the officer decides to have a hearing to decide Cuba's fate.

At the hearing, the officer decides that if Cuba can put on the new diving suits and walk 12 steps, he can regain his diving status. The problem is, the new suits are much heavier than the ones Cuba was used to and the officer knows there is no way Cuba can walk let alone stand up in one of these suits with just one leg.

Cuba gets into the suit and struggles but is able to stand up. He slowly takes a step, then another with Deniro counting off the steps. When he gets to step #8, he nearly falls and doesn't look like he will recover. The officer in charge of the hearing says it's over but Deniro starts barking out commands to Cuba, just like in boot camp years earlier. Deniro shouts to him about what makes a navy diver and so on. Cuba slowly regains his balance and make the final 4 steps. The crowd cheers.

Deniro and his wife (who by the way, is Charlize Theron and I still can't figure that one out...) leave the room.

Cuba's wife and son embrace him.

The officer in charge of the hearing just sits there, dejected.

In the end we learn that Cuba was promoted two years later to Master Chief Diver and 7 years after that finally retired.

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In the final courtroom scene, Cuba puts on the diving suit and walks the 12 steps required for his reinstatement into the diving program
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