Socialist Worker

We Were Soldiers and the battle for Hollywood

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1792

I had the misfortune of going to see Mel Gibson's latest movie, We Were Soldiers, last week. It depicts the first major battle in Vietnam between the US army and the Viet Minh in 1965. Lines in the film like 'I'm glad I died for America' will have you reaching for the sick bag.

It is so terrible that after the first five minutes I considered walking out. But like the stars of the film, the helicopter-borne Seventh Cavalry, I stuck it out until the bitter end. We Were Soldiers is racist, pro-war, gung-ho, jingoistic filth. I could go on, but I think you've got my drift.

Even the Daily Telegraph's film critic argued it was 'one sided, pro-American, celluloid nonsense'. The BBC's Film 2002 presenter, Jonathan Ross, said the film is as bad as John Wayne's turkey of a Vietnam War movie, The Green Berets. It's worse. The Green Berets had at least some pretence that the US Marines were there to 'help' the people of Vietnam. We Were Soldiers has no explanation of why the US is there – for nearly two hours all you see are US troops massacring Vietnamese people.

The good news is that the critics have not only condemned the film out of hand, but the paying public has also stayed away in droves. My own unscientific observations bear this out. I went to see this film at the Leicester Square Odeon – capacity 1,943. There was a grand total of 19 in the audience. We Were Soldiers is one of a number of Hollywood films rushed out post 11 September. Others include Behind Enemy Lines and Black Hawk Down. All of them are crude attempts to justify US imperialism.

Over the last 25 years Hollywood films such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon have exposed the brutality of the US war machine. Before 11 September there was a resurgence of radical Hollywood films – American Beauty, Cradle Will Rock and others.

Some in Hollywood are desperate to reverse this trend. Randall Wallace, the director of We Were Soldiers and Pearl Harbor, said recently, 'I want Americans to feel proud of their country and their armed forces.' Some US commentators are saying that the re-emergence of these right wing films is a sign that Hollywood is going back to the 1950s.

The vast majority of Hollywood films produced have reinforced the ideology of the ruling class. In many ways it was easier in the 1950s for Hollywood to portray the US as the land of the free and the home of the brave. US society was in the middle of an economic boom and the Cold War. Things aren't so easy four decades later.

Six months after 11 September radical filmmakers in the US are once again beginning to stick their heads above the parapet. Film-maker Michael Moore has written a brilliant book attacking George Bush, which he plans to turn into a series. And director Steven Soderbergh is making a movie about the anti-capitalist movement.

A fascinating cultural battle is going to take place in Hollywood over the next few years. One last thing – George Bush says he loves We Were Soldiers.

Of course he does. The last thing he wants to remember right now is a time when a superpower was humbled by a poorly equipped army in Vietnam. Now that's a film I would like to see.

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Sat 23 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1792
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