A rare victory for US troops in Vietnam forms the basis of this unflinching war drama based on the memoir by 7th Air Cavalry hero, General Hal Moore. Braveheart writer Randall Wallace adapts, directs and reunites with Mel Gibson who, as the selfless Moore, finds his battalion outnumbered five-to-one in the so-called Valley of Death. Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott and a fresh-faced Chris Klein play their part in a true underdog story that invokes the spirit of General Custer and the Zulu-repelling men of Rorke's Drift.
Can it be coincidence that at a time when America is once again flexing its military muscles so many war films, all extolling the bravery of the GIs and their officers, are coming our way?
This one, written and directed by Randall Wallace and taken from the memoirs of US General Hal Moore, is a kind of companion piece to Black Hawk Down, with the difference that We Were Soldiers tells of an American victory.
In 1965, in a place known as the Valley of Death, 400 members of the 7th Air Cavalry led by then Colonel Moore (Mel Gibson, suffering badly as his men die) found themselves surrounded by 2,000 Vietcong troops.
It was the first encounter between the Americans and the Vietnamese and the resulting carnage, graphically illustrated to be sure, ended with the cavalry just about victorious, unlike their predecessors under General Custer at the Little Big Horn.
It was one of the few battles America won in Vietnam so this could have been the stirring and uplifting movie it clearly sets out to be. And yet it's not.
There is, in fact, something old fashioned about its depiction of the soldiers' courage and their officer's square-jawed resolution.
The best Vietnam war films - Platoon, for instance, and Full Metal Jacket - at least touched on the moral issues involved. This one does not.
War, it suggests, is just something that happens. The soldier's lot is to do and die.
On a visual and visceral level it works well enough but its gung-ho patriotism is reminiscent of all those times when John Wayne won World War II by himself.