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"Men of Honor"

Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Written by Scott Marshal Smith. 
Starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  11/16/00 


Long time, no see!  As many of you know, I was on vacation last week, visiting friends south of DC on my annual southern road trip.  20 hours of driving, down through Richmond, Charlotte, Fountain Inn, SC and Phatlanta.  All good!  So, that is why there was no review last week.

First off, I want to take some well-deserved space here for my main man, Charles "The Verb" Longer.  Chuck proposed to his long-time girlfriend Teresa Honemond last Friday night, and they are engaged to be married sometime next summer!  For me, this is probably the best news I have gotten all year.  Congratulations, you can send your congrats along to Chuck as well, at

Okay, so back to the movies!  Amanda "Medium Rare" Dewitt and I took in "Men of Honor" yesterday at the local cineplex, and I gotta admit, this is one hell of a movie.  The true story of the first black Navy diver, Cuba Gooding plays Carl Brashear, Navy-cook-turned-master-diver.  Over the course of the film (covering most of his naval career), Brashear overcomes long odds and plenty of racism in the 1940s and 50s as he attempts to break the color line and work professionally in his lifelong career field:  the water.  Much of the resistance in the Navy training program where Carl learns how to become a master diver comes at the hands of his lead trainer, Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro), who is more bully than racist but he somehow finds a way to roll two into one.  Over the course of Carl's career, Sunday slowly gains respect for the man that he originally labeled "Cookie" and the two become unlikely friends over the course of their careers.

I loved this movie, in a way that I had not loved a military drama in quite some time.  The biggest part of this is the previously-unvisited subject matter.  I got into the descriptions and the underwater gear that the 1950s Navy employed, because I had simply never seen a lot of that before.  American movie studios have made so many movies about WWII and Navy SEALs and Vietnam that we forget about some of the other aspects of the armed forces.  And, Brashear's story is very, very interesting.  When Brashear first enters the barracks at the naval training program in New Jersey, and is the *only black person on the grounds!*, you get nervous for him immediately.  Gooding is very good here, and he holds his own with De Niro--in what must be his 100th movie this year!--in their scenes.

Speaking of which, De Niro looks like he is eating up this part; as the abusive, hard-drinking, surly Sunday, he does great work cussing out his recruits and peers, and being a racist bastard one moment and Brashear's biggest fan the next.  (The work here, though, is not as good as Clint Eastwood in "Heartbreak Ridge", for my money the best set of military-instructor-cursing-out-students lines in the history of the movies.  Not a great film overall, but I dare you to find a movie with better lines.  I dare you!!)

This was one of the most dramatic, well-acted, well-paced movies of the year, and it should have had Oscar written all over it.

That is, until the scenes after Brashear graduates from naval school begin.

If the director had cut everything off right there, I think you had a definite Best Picture contender.  But, after Brashear graduates and after a thrilling underwater nuclear warhead sequence, the movie goes downhill and commits a couple of fatal errors.  First, by showing us the "fall" portion of Brashear's rise-and-fall story arc, we get to see him face all of his personal problems and suffering as a result of a near-fatal accident.  Then, the movie gets way too "movie" in its courtroom finale, as it sounds so high and mighty and the musical score gets louder and louder as Brashear overcomes more controversy kind of ruined that scene for me.  And, by including all of this last 30 minutes, the movie ends up being too long and it makes you start asking "when is this thing gonna end?" to the guy sitting next to you.

So, as it ends up, "Men of Honor" is a good film but its final quarter makes it miss out on greatness.

Rating:  $8.25 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09