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:: Men of Honour

What happens when fictional cinema and true stories meet can be magic. All too often these days, however, there is a little voice in each viewer’s head questioning which parts are true, and which is Hollywood fiction. This question rings very loudly in one’s mind during Men of Honour. However, this does not ruin the film completely. It would be hard to make a terrible film from such a captivating story.

Men of Honour is based on the life of Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who became the United States Navy’s first African-American Master Chief. The film follows Brashear, from his childhood at the feet of his sharecropper father, through his struggle to gain acceptance in the then recently racially integrated but still racist Navy. Then it goes well into his career when a major physical injury, his marriage, his son, the memory of his father, and his desire to attain the rank of Master Chief, all collide. Along the way Brashear is constantly thrown together with a bigoted but brave Navy Diver named Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro.) At first Sunday ridicules Brashear and tries to thwart his efforts at advancement, but eventually he comes to see that Brashear has what it takes to be a great Navy Diver. Sunday is the foil of Brashear. They have similar backgrounds, but the farther ahead Brashear gets in his life, the lower Sunday sinks in his. The character is almost too perfect a juxtaposition to Brashear to be real. And, as it turns out, he’s not. Sunday is not one man who actually existed, but the screenwriter’s conglomeration of the various officers Brashear met along the way. 

While the film itself lacks depth at some stages, the performances in it are excellent. Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire, Boyz N The Hood) brings life to his character. He has an air of calm, of bravery, of determination, of duty, and of course, honour, that is a far cry from the sentimental but sometimes egotistical character Gooding Jr played in Jerry Maguire, for which he won an Oscar. De Niro (Meet the Parents, The GodfatherII, Taxi Driver) gives a solid performance as Sunday. He manages to make viewers angry with him at the same time as they admire his bravery. He also makes Sunday’s change of heart about Brashear believable, something that may have been a stretch for a less accomplished actor.

Besides a great supporting cast, which includes Charlize Theron (The Legend of Bagger Vance, Celebrity,) Aunjanue Ellis (Girlstown, In Too Deep,) and Hal Holbrook (All the President’s Men, The Firm,) those behind the scenes are respected Hollywood players. They include director George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food), and as producer his long-time friend and collaborator Robert Teitel, Executive Producer Bill Cosby, and with music by Mark Isham (Rules of Engagement, Romeo is Bleeding.) However, from all these great people we get a film that is very good, but not great.

The film is emotional, which is more due to the story itself than the actual crafting of the film. Men of Honour has all the typical makings of an armed forces drama - - insensitive but eventually human officers, the long-suffering love interest, the patriotic music scenes (You can’t help but think of An Officer and a Gentleman), and the fast paced action. However, it doesn’t offer anything really new. It is visually, stylistically, and dramatically…regular. What you take away from Men of Honour depends greatly on what you are looking for. It is satisfying as a classic war hero film. It tells an interesting story, has solid performances and is well put together, but it doesn’t bring anything thing terribly new to the screen. While it isn’t amazing, it is worth seeing.