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Men of Honor
2000 - R - 128 Mins.
Director: George Tillman Jr
Producer: Bill Badalato, Robert Teitel
Written By: Scott Marshall Smith
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Charlize Theron, Michael Rapaport, Hal Holbrook
Review by: David Trier
   
Before I completely slam this oh-for-goodness-sake film, a small disclaimer. Men of Honor is based on the real life story of Carl Brashear and if even one scene of the film accurately depicts the truth, Brashear is a fascinating, strong, and noble man. That said, this movie is an overly sentimental, transparent piece of celluloid indulgence and cheap narrative manipulation. Sorry.

The film starts with a young Carl Brashear watching his father (Carl Lumbly) work himself to the ground, plowing the Kentucky dirt to support his family. After some don't-end-up-like-me dialogue, the film jumps ahead to Carl as a young man (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) about to leave for the Navy in the early 1950's. When he arrives, he is disappointed to find how segregated it is; the whites are soldiers and the blacks are mostly cooks and such. When he sees a master diver, Billy Sunday (Robert DeNiro), display some heroism saving a man overboard, Brashear becomes determined to reach master diver status. The act of heroism managed to permanently screw up Sunday's lungs, however, and he is assigned a new position as a diving instructor. Brashear, by completely diregarding some direct orders, manages to impress Captain Pullman (Powers Boothe) enough to recommend him for diving school. He becomes the first black diver in the newly unsegregated Navy. Sunday is his instructor and turns out to be a hateful little man. Despite every racial injustice known to man, Brashear consistently comes out on top. He didn't have more than a seventh grade education so he enlists a librarian/med student (Aunjanue Ellis) to tutor him and be his love interest. Mr. Pappy (Hal Holbrook), the superior of the diving school is determined to make sure no colored person passes his program. After doing everything to sabotage his final tests, Brashear still completes his tasks and Sunday, in a change of heart, allows him to pass. It is the end of Sunday's career. But Brashear's Navy diver experience is cut short when he loses his leg on the job. The rest of the movie entails Sunday helping him get back to active duty and achieve his coveted master diver status even though he is a forty-something year old black amputee.

The film is not completely devoid of tension. Some scenes are downright engaging, but they are few and far in between. The production quality is excellent, particularly the underwater scenes which must have been hell to shoot. Charlize Theron, without whom no movie seems to be complete these days, plays DeNiro's young alcoholic wife. She is stunning and alive as always. DeNiro has his moments of brilliance, particularly when he isn't yelling or doing a self-impersonation. David Conrad does a creepy good job portraying Hanks, a young superior Navy official who provides condescending opposition. Well, that's it. All out of good things to say.

From the opening shot, dramatic waves with overly dramatic orchestration, it was obvious what kind of movie this was going to be. The kind where every piece of dialogue was intended as a tagline. "Don't end up like me, son." "Be the best, sir!" "The Navy's greatest tradition of all... honor." Excuse me? I just sat through two hours of the Navy slamming a hard working soldier because of the color of his skin, and their greatest tradition is honor? Although this is the story of a man overcoming prejudice, the racism displayed here is just cartoonish. For example, his entire diving class refuses to bunk in the same room as him (although it's not clear where they end up sleeping - in a tent somewhere?). Anyway, the only person that's willing to be civil with him is a character named Snowhill (Michael Rapaport) who's a stuttering idiot from Wisconsin! Right, so the only person in the Navy who isn't a racist pig... is just too simple to be a racist pig. Huh? Most of the movie consists of sailors running about in their underwear, rough-housing, or being humiliated. It's like a two hour long music video for The Villiage People's "In the Navy."

Cuba Gooding, Jr. delivers his typical forced determination which gets tiresome pretty early on. But the writing in this movie is just so empty and obvious, you can't blame anyone for bad acting. The things he has to say... Ultimately in their attempt to draw us a beautiful painting of a brave man that overcame injustice, they leave us with a stick-figure rendition of a stubborn fool that doesn't know when to quit. Men of Honor is just lame to the point of comedy and that's highly unfortunate considering the subject. Carl Brashear may be a great man, but this movie is oceans from greatness.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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