Among the many Hollywood productions about the Vietnam War, We Were Soldiers isn’t on many people’s best of lists. It may not be as good as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Born On the Fourth of July or even Casualties of War but We Were Soldiers is still a great war movie.

Centering on the US Army’s first encounter with the North Vietnamese in November 1965, We Were Soldiers is based on the true events that lead up to the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. The battle itself would make international headlines and end up causing 1500 to 1700 US casualties and over 1000 North Vietnamese casualties.

An action-packed movie that also focuses on the family dynamic of the soldiers fighting the battle, a rarity in war movies, We Were Soldiers is quite an important and powerful movie for the multiple perspectives it shows. However, like I said above, We Were soldiers does have its flaws and while it might not be as good as other classic Vietnam War movies, it’s still a good example of an underrated movie that not many talk about.

Why People Have Overlooked We Were Soldiers…

Released in 2002, this movie premiered only a short time before its star Mel Gibson underwent a tremendous shift with his public image. I’m referring to the number of incidents where Gibson was caught driving drunk and going on racist tirades against Jewish people. This turned many people off to Gibson and subsequently, his film careers suffered. For better or worse, We Were Soldiers was lost in Gibson’s outbursts.

Even before Gibson’s breakdowns, We Were Soldiers didn’t do well at the box office. The movie took in $114 million on its $75 million budget and while that might seem good, it isn’t considered a success nor what the studio would have been looking to make back.

Why I Enjoy We Were Soldiers…

We Were Soldiers is a movie that gets into the nitty-gritty of combat. As a viewer and from the way the combat sequences are shot, we have a front row seat into the action. One of the best things that the movie does is not only make us feel for the men undergoing this very scary and intense situation but we see the relentless dedication the North Vietnamese Army had in order to annihilate the American presents in the Ia Drang Valley. We also see their even more relentless dedication to dig underground as we visit the tunnels beneath the valley several times. After We Were Soldiers is over, I was forced to ask why the Americans decided to stay in Vietnam and even wondered how they thought they could have won the war against a people who dug small cities underneath their own land; away from enemy sight.

While those painful lessons are in the audiences’ hindsight, I think We Were Soldiers is also a really good movie about journalism and this is something that most people often forget. In fact, We Were Soldiers was adapted from a book called We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, written by US Army Colonel Hal Moore, whom Gibson played in the film as well as a reporter named Joe Galloway, who was portrayed by Barry Pepper. Joe, who was a journalist, hopped on a chopper headed for the Ia Drang Valley and found himself head deep in combat with the North Vietnamese. As the movie shows, Joe even participated in fighting during some of the heavy action. He, along with Colonel Moore, survived the battle and released their book in 1992.

Not only is We Were Soldiers an important, underrated war movie but it would definitely make a list of my top 10 favourite movies about journalists. I’d place it with movies like All the President’s Men, The Paper, Kill the Messenger, Network and Frost/Nixon. We Were Soldiers is a fantastic lesson for all those studying journalism, as it shows the real life danger that many reporters put themselves in for a story but it also examines how important journalists are when reporting on important historical events.

Look out for Jon Hamm in a small role. Shot just 7 years before he would become Don Draper from Mad Men.