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WE WERE SOLDIERS

movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)

The movie begins as we hear a narrator describing a battle in 1954 in North Vietnam. The French are being ambushed by the Viet Cong and they are all killed.

Eleven years later, Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) is in Fort Bragg, assembling men to serve in the 1st Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry. Gibson is a very educated officer and has studied the battle that cost the French Army all their lives 11 years earlier. He vows never to make the same mistakes they made. He also realizes that the 7th Cavalry was the same one that Custer led into an ambush by Sitting Bull.

The 1st half of the movie sets up the major characters and we meet Gibson's 2nd in command, the grizzled combat veteran Sgt. Maj. Plumley (Sam Elliot), the hotshot helicopter pilot Maj. Crandall (Greg Kinnear), the young officer Lt. Geoghegan (Chris Klien) and Gibson's wife Julie (Madeleine Stowe).

Gibson is a very religious father and spends much of the movie praying, either with his kids or over his fallen men.

Politics play a big part in the events and we learn that a few months before leaving for action, 100 of his most experienced men are pulled since they have less than 2 months to serve.

He makes great, passionate speeches and is every bit the leader you'd want leading you into battle. Just before they leave on their assignment he tells his men and their families that he will be the first one off the helicopter and the last one back on. He will leave no men, dead or alive, behind.

Their mission is the first major American battle in the Vietnam War. He is leading his men, about 400 of them into battle against an unknown number of North Vietnamese in the la Drang Valley (the Valley of Death).

Gibson is the first to step off the helicopter.

The next hour takes place over 4 days as his men are indeed ambushed by about 2000 Vietnamese soldiers. Many men are killed during the first few moments of the action. Having studied the battles of the past, Gibson usually stays one step ahead of the Viet Cong commander Ahn (Don Duang).

We see both Ahn and Gibson planning their next steps and we grow to respect both men in their leadership abilities.

Back in the states, the Army, for some reason, is notifying the wives of their husbands deaths by telegram, delivered by taxi drivers. Madeleine Stowe is outraged by this and tells the drivers to give her all the telegrams and she, along with Chris Klien's wife (Keri Russell) will deliver them herself.

Barry Pepper plays Joe Galloway, a UPI reporter who talks his way into the front.

He finds himself right in the middle of the action and eventually substitutes his camera for a rifle.

Many more soldiers, on both sides are killed and the battle seems like it will never end. Carrying a wounded soldier back to the camp, Chris Klien is killed.

Cut back to the States and a crying Madeleine Stowe shows up on Keri Russell's doorstep with a telegram. At first Russell thinks that Stowe is crying because she has just found out that Gibson is dead but soon realizes that the telegram is for her.

On the final night Gibson has realized that he is too far outnumbered and the Viet Cong will make one final push in the morning, defeating his men. He asks his Sgt. Maj. (Sam Elliot) what he thought it was that Col. Custer was thinking when he realized he'd moved his men into a slaughter. Elliot tells him that Col. Custer was a pussy.

The next morning, awaiting the onslaught, Gibson directs his men to push forward, attacking the Viet Cong rather than just waiting to be attacked. The tactic works and the Viet Cong are defeated.

The Viet Cong commander retreats from his underground compound.

All the men are gathered up, both dead and alive and the last one on the final helicopter is Gibson.

Commander Ahn finds an American flag and tells his men that now this is the Americans war and many more will die.

We then see the UPI reporter breaking down as he finishes writing the final pages of his story. He is the narrator we heard in the beginning of the film. We learn that Gibson and his men stayed another nine months, continuing with other battles.

Madeleine Stowe is then shown back at home as she sees a taxi pulling up. She rushes her kids upstairs and is terrified to answer the doorbell. When she finally opens the door we see that it is Mel Gibson. They embrace and the kids all run downstairs to see daddy.

The final scene is Mel Gibson at the Vietnam Memorial and we learn that 58 of his men died in the battle, although more than 300 died in total in the battle. (I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be the Lt. Col. Hal Moore character or the real Mel Gibson at the monument since he hadn't aged and the memorial was built about 25 years later.)

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