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The centerpiece of writer-director Randall (Braveheart) Wallace’s film is the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, the first major encounter between U.S. and North Vietnamese troops. The situation is remarkably similar to Black Hawk Down’s: A small American force is surrounded by a much larger (but technologically inferior) number of enemy troops; the Americans are trapped overnight and take heavy casualties yet eventually prevail. Nearly as bloody but more old-fashioned than Black Hawk, We Were Soldiers spends plenty of time on the home front, humanizing the soldiers and commending the fortitude of their wives, but it also ignores the messy aspects of the Vietnam War, unabashedly glorifying the American fighters as heroes. That’s hardly surprising—the movie is based on an autobiographical book by two of the central characters, then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson, Ol’ Braveheart himself) and reporter-turned-combatant Joseph L. Galloway (Barry Pepper, a Saving Private Ryan veteran). The film also singles out a few more noble warriors among the cannon fodder, notably Moore’s crusty longtime aide, Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley (Sam Elliott); chopper pilot Maj. Bruce “Snakeshit” Crandall (Greg Kinnear, trying really hard to be manly); and well-meaning greenhorn 2nd Lt. Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein). As the battle toll rises, Fort Benning wives Julie Moore (Madeleine Stowe, who deserves better) and Barbara Geoghegan (Keri Russell) take on the task of informing the other women that their husbands have been lost. Of course, a telegram eventually comes for one of them as well—the movie’s not about to skip any of the tear-soaked gambits that are more typical of World War II than Vietnam flicks. Unlike the recut Apocalypse Now, We Were Soldiers is an instant antique, but given the post-Sept. 11 mood, Wallace and Gibson just might get away with their apolitical reading of America’s Southeast Asian misadventure. —Mark Jenkins