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Men of Honor (March 14/01)

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as real-life Navy diver Carl Brashear, Men of Honor is a return to old-fashioned Hollywood filmmaking. It's sweeping in scope, features fine performances all around, and is appropriate viewing for audiences of all ages.

Various obstacles must be overcome by Brashear, whose ultimate goal is to become a Master Chief. His problem, though, is that he's black and all of his superiors have a tough time looking past that (the movie is set roughly 50 years ago). Robert DeNiro plays one such superior, and while he initially gives Brashear a tough time, he eventually sees him as more of an ally and the two work together to combat the rampant racism in the Navy.

Men of Honor is a solid little movie. While it doesn't break any new ground nor tell a story that's particularly original, it does present the tale in a manner that is rarely utilized these days. Like many older movies, the film takes us through Brashear's life, from his humble beginnings working on his parent's farm to his various struggles within the Navy. I'm sure the temptation was there to make this a flashier tale, but that would have been inappropriate.

While the supporting actors are good, this is truly Gooding's movie. He finally has a chance to play a character that's not all showy-ness and over-the-top hysterionics ("show me the money!"). Brashear, as played by Gooding, is a decent, hard-working man who just wants the recognition he deserves. This may be a fault of the movie - Brashear is shown to be just about a perfect Navy man, far better than any of his colleagues - but Gooding plays him straight.

And since the movie was initially called Navy Diver, there's plenty of that. One particularly exciting scene has Brashear stubbornly stuck underwater as he attempts to complete a task that has been rigged for his failure. He stays underwater for hours until he finishes the test, and when he finally emerges, it's a moment of pure cinematic joy. We really feel for Brashear and want him to succeed. This, too, is a fault within the movie: The bad guys are real bad and Brashear is exceedingly good.

But that's nit-picking. Men of Honor is a well-made throwback to the days of old, when telling a story was what mattered; not special effects or flashy editing.

out of