Wednesday, March 26, 2014

84 Charlie Mopic (7) vs. We Were Soldiers (10)


                “84 Charlie Mopic” is a low budget movie that has actors it could afford.  A couple of the cast went on to moderately successful TV careers and several were in “84 Charlie Mopic”.  All things considered, the guys do an excellent job.  Each does a good job developing his character and no one drains the momentum in the numerous moments when it’s just the camera and them.  The facial reactions (it is an intimate movie) are especially impressive.  Standouts are Nicholas Cascone as the impish RTO and Richard Brooks as the hard core OD.  This movie does death scenes well.  A

                “We Were Soldiers” is dominated by Mel Gibson as Col. Moore.  This happens to be a good Gibson performance.  He tones it down and does not insist on being tortured.  Sam Elliott has a lot of fun playing the crusty sergeant and injects some welcome humor.  Barry Pepper is solid as the photographer Joe Galloway.  Greg Kinnear is dashing as a helicopter pilot with balls of steel.  The rest of the cast carries water satisfactorily.  The movie stands out among Vietnam War movies in its depiction of the wives of the officers.  Madeline Stowe is excellent as the sorority mom and she is ably supported.  A

84 Charlie Mopic               9
We Were Soldiers             9

                “84 Charlie Mopic” is the story of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol with the twist that the unit is accompanied by a motion picture cameraman referred to as MoPic.  The Army wants a documentary of a typical mission.  To add to the abnormal dynamics, the tightly knit unit (with its tightly wound sergeant OD) has to cope with a green LT hoping to “punch his ticket” to higher command.  The routine mission turns out to be tragically less than routine.  Thank goodness or this would have been a pretty boring mission.  The plot is mostly exposition, but the dialogue flows well.  The action picks up after the characters have been developed to empathy level.  There is a nice buildup to the tense finale with a cool twisty ending.  A

                “We Were Soldiers” is based on the acclaimed book about the first major American battle of the war.  The plot covers the development of the air cavalry concept through training and then plunks the unit into a jungle clearing in “Indian territory”.  They are soon in the middle of a s*** storm.  Its “Zulu” without the buildings and with sympathetic coverage of the enemy.  The movie does a great job of intercutting with the wives back at the base in the States.  The plot follows the book admirably closely with the glaring exception of the ridiculous tacked-on happy Hollywood ending.  The plot also can be criticized for shoe-horning religion into the equation.   B

84 Charlie Mopic               18
We Were Soldiers             17

                “84 Charlie Mopic” is really constrained by its low budget when it comes to depiction of combat.  This is partly alleviated by the unique POV perspective.  Although the combat is not balls to the wall, it is realistic to this type of patrol.  It does lead to some very poignant deaths.  B  

                “We Were Soldiers” has some of the most intense action of any Vietnam War movie. We get some breathers once the battle begins. This is welcome because the violence is draining.  Believe it or not, the battle is less frenetic than the actual Battle of Ia Drang.  The tactics of both sides are spot on.  There is no better film for understanding a conventional battle in Vietnam. There’s no surrealism.   Just turn it off before the feel-good ending.  A

84 Charlie Mopic               26
We Were Soldiers             26

                “84 Charlie Mopic” puts you with a LRRP.  Granted, what is supposed to be a routine mission is far from it.  However, everything that happens could have happened on a mission like this.  The soldier behavior is authentic and the dialogue is not forced.  The dynamics are a strength of the film.  The squad has a bond in spite of their various backgrounds and personalities.  For instance, OD and Cracker are best buddies when in the World they would hardly have been so.  The jocularity of the soldiers is true to American warriors.  The relationship between the rookie LT and OD has been jazzed up but accurately reflects the role of veteran sergeants in leading units and the fact that many officers sought temporary combat to enhance their careers.  A+

                “We Were Soldiers” is a realistic depiction of conventional warfare in Vietnam.  It sticks to the basic facts of an actual battle until it goes off the track in the end.  The movie concentrates on Lt. Col. Moore and he was a technical advisor so we can assume he vetted the command decisions and Gibson’s portrayal.  Although the religiousity is pushy, it does match Moore’s strong faith and reflects the stronger religious beliefs of the Army in 1964.  The lack of cursing by the soldiers is unrealistic in spite of the supposed Kennedyesque innocence of the enlistees.  The movie saved the R material for the bloodshed.  Kudos to the realistic coverage of Moore’s Vietnamese counterpart Col. Anh.  The realism breaks down at the end when the movie sends a message that belies its theme that America was in for a load of trouble in Vietnam.  B

84 Charlie Mopic     36
We Were Soldiers   34


                This was an awesome match-up for an opening round duel.  It is a shame one of them has to exit the tournament this early.  The films could not have been more different.  WWS is big budget, with an all-star cast, and covers an entire battle.  84 CM is small budget, no-name cast, and covers one mission.  Both do a great job achieving their cinematic goals.  WWS is a bit heavy-handed in parts and is hurt by the atrocious ending bayonet charge.  Contrast that with the unpredictable and somber ending of 84CM and you can see why it deserved to win.  Sometimes smaller is better, especially when smaller is the underdog.  Both movies are great history lessons, but you can read a book about the Battle of Ia Drang to get the historical facts whereas 84CM puts you in the boots of the soldiers.
watch the winner!


  1. I saw 84 charly when it was first released to video. most impressive.Agree with your dual review virtualy point by point.84 is the definite winner for charactor and realism,Mel's big budget shows at all times in excess and CGI.

    1. I think I first saw it when it ran on PBS.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.