Men of Honor

Men of Honor reminded me a lot of these films although it was set during peacetime in the United States

When I was growing up and beginning my fascination with movies, one of the most popular genres was the war film. These movies were usually made during World War II and had a lot of glowing references to the honor the armed services displayed.

Men of Honor reminded me a lot of these films although it was set during peacetime in the United States. Rather than being specifically about the military it is about a far deeper subject, what a person can do when put to the test, how the human spirit can rise over any obstacle. The focus of this ‘inspired by a real story’ film is Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr.). He was born into a poor American-American sharecropper’s family and endowed with a love for the water, an unyielding work ethic and a devotion to making his father proud of him. In order to escape the bleak prospects in his hometown Carl joins the Navy. Unfortunately, his prospects there are restricted by his race to the mess hall or kitchen. Fed up by this system he dares to take a swim on a day on a ‘whites only’ day. The sailors chase him but Carl proves to be the fastest swimmer on the ship. This leads to a position of a rescue swimmer and a glimmer of hope for advancement. On this ship he sees a dramatic rescue by Master Chief Master Diver Billy Sunday (Robert DiNiro). Carl decides to become a Master diver although no African-American has ever been permitted into the school. After over one hundred requests he is finally accepted into the diving school in New Jersey. Once there Carl finds the struggle has just begun. For a start he is hated by the other students and the now instructor Sunday. What follows in this film is how this man fought against every obstacle to achieve his goal. Even after he becomes a diver he finds the struggle is still before him. During a mission he is injured, losing his leg. He is fitted with a prosthetic limb and fights again to regain active status. In this climatic scene DiNiro and Gooding display their true mastery of their craft.

Men of Honor is most definitely an actor’s film. I suppose with a cast like DiNiro and Gooding nothing less should be expected. These men can breathe life into any movie they sign up to work on. DiNiro wears the role of the Master Chief with the ease of a favorite set of weekend clothes. He controls the screen in every scene he is in. Here is an actor that knows he has talent and has nothing to prove so he is freed to do what he does best, entertain the audience. While DiNiro is somewhat type cast in tough guy roles he performs them with class. Master Chief Sunday could have become a one-dimensional role yet DiNiro fleshes out the character with a touch of humility, personal growth and a true love for the character’s wife. Now speaking of the wife, the beautiful and talented Charlize Theron plays her. While the role is a small one it is pivotal to the flow of Men of Honor. She is the catalyst, unchanged but causing change in those around her. It is great to see an actress that has carried many films not about such a smaller role. This brings us to Gooding. While this role does not have the depth of some others he has played it comes across as one that he was deeply committed to this project. The first time we see him he is behind a plow, helping with the family’s poor dirt farm. He is working until the last minute before he is to leave for the Navy. His father is a stoic man, not much at displaying his emotions but you can tell the father and son share a bond most men would envy. Gooding presents as strong a presence as the real Brashear must have been. Gooding shows Brashear as a man that will not give up, who made his father a promise to do better than he did and succeeding at achieving his dream. Obstacles are just something natural to life that will bury you unless you master them.

The director of Men of Honor is George Tillman Jr. This is only his third film, first of any major note for the studios, but he has great potential as a director. In the commentary provided with the deleted scenes he explains that the original cut of Men of Honor was over three hours long. While Tilman has his greatest strength in the framing of shots and the use of the natural background he needs a little help in pacing. Men of Honor is punctuated with some rather great moments. This is not just a problem this director has, it is almost inherent in a biopic. After all, how do you cram such an interesting life into such a short amount of time. Tilman’s command of the medium is best seen in shots that show the smallness of man next to the grandeur of nature. Even with a man larger than life as Brashear any man has a lot do to over come the hardships of life.

The Men of Honor disc itself is excellent. The audio makes full use of the whole range of six speakers. While the special effects are a bit sparse for this type of film they are well used. This is most evident in the underwater scenes. The picture is calibration quality. The anamorphic transfer is near perfection. The disc has some interesting extras including a making of featurette, feature commentary and deleted scenes with comments. There is also an homage to Navy divers. For those that want a good flick Men of Honor is one to get.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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