Men of Honor

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Carl Brashear (Gooding, Jr.) decides to leave his lifestyle in native Kentucky in 1948 and the life of a sharecropper by way of joining the United States Navy. As a crew member of the salvage ship USS Hoist (ARS-40), where he is assigned to the galley, he is inspired by the bravery of one of the divers, Master Chief Petty Officer Leslie William “Billy” Sunday (De Niro). He is determined to overcome racism and become the first black American Navy diver, even proclaiming that he will become a Master Diver. He eventually is selected to attend Diving and Salvage School in Bayonne, New Jersey where he arrives as a Boatswain’s Mate Second Class. He finds that Master Chief Sunday is the Leading Chief Petty Officer and head instructor, who is under orders from the school’s eccentric, bigoted commanding officer to ensure that Brashear fails.

Brashear struggles to overcome his educational shortcomings, a result of his leaving school in the 7th grade in order to help his family’s failing farm. He receives educational assistance from his future wife, an aspiring doctor, who works part-time in the Harlem (New York City) Public Library. Brashear proves himself as a diver by rescuing a fellow student whose dive buddy abandoned him during a salvage evaluation that turns into a near disaster. Unfortunately, due to the prevailing racism of the commanding officer (Hal Holbrook), the student who fled in the face of danger is awarded a medal for Brashear’s heroic actions. Likewise, during an underwater assembling task where each student had to assemble a flange underwater using a bag of tools, Brashear’s bag is cut open. Brashear finishes the assembly and successfully completes the diving school, earning the quiet and suppressed admiration of Master Chief Sunday and his fellow divers. Master Chief Sunday is later demoted to Senior Chief by the commanding officer for standing up for Brashear and allowing him to pass. His career begins to wane as he continues to lose his composure around the officers that disrespect his accomplishments, until he is finally demoted to Chief Petty Officer and relegated to menial duties.

The paths and careers of both Brashear and Sunday sharply diverge as Brashear rises quickly through the ranks, even becoming a national hero in 1966 Palomares B-52 crash (Spain) for recovering a missing atomic bomb and for saving the life of Navy crew, while the latter becomes a brooding alcoholic and is displeased with his low rank. The two eventually meet again after Brashear loses his left leg in the atomic bomb incident and must fight the US Navy bureaucracy in order to return to full active duty and fulfill his dream of becoming a master diver. They are successful and Brashear is reinstated.

In the epilogue, it is noted that two years later Brashear becomes a master diver. It is added that he does not retire from the Navy for another nine years.

REVIEW:

I remember in college watching part of Men in Honor when it came on the local movie station we had in the dorms, but I don’t recall ever watching it in its entirety. As much as I remember liking this film, I cannot for the love of me tell you why I never got back to it. Perhaps it is because my dad was in the Air Force and I did AFJROTC in high school and this is a Navy picture. Who knows?

What is this about?

Against formidable odds — and an old-school diving instructor embittered by the U.S. Navy’s new, less prejudicial policies — Carl Brashear sets his sights on becoming the Navy’s first African-American master diver in this uplifting true story.

What did I like?

Story needs to be told. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that just about everyone has no idea who Carl Brashear is, let alone his importance to future African-Americans in the Navy With that said, if I were to ask you who Jackie Robinson was, I bet I would get 1000 word essay on him. My point is that this is a story that needs to be told and I’m glad that these filmmakers had the balls to get it out there.

Cuba. I was listening to a podcast a while back and they were pondering where Cuba Gooding, Jr. had disappeared to. As we can see from many of his films, he is a very talented actor, but he just disappeared. One this for certain, though, he seems to always show up and/or star in these films dealing with racial issues of the past such as Radio, Pearl Harbor, and Red Tails. This is a very strong performance from him. Some have said this is arguably the best performance of his career. It is hard to say this isn’t as you can tell this is a character he really got into and cared about.

Fact check. Other than some dramatization for film’s sake, this is a pretty much spot-on retelling of what happened, according to an interview I read with the real Carl Brashear. We’ve all seen these biopics that are so far removed from the truth they are just shy of being in the same category as Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry. Thankfully, someone had the good sense to realize that audiences appreciate the real story a lot more than fabrications.

What didn’t I like?

Sorry, Charlie. One critic said about Charlize Theron’s performance, something along the lines of “…it isn’t bad, but she’s just there and serves no purpose.” Really, he has a point. She is gorgeous in this picture, don’t get me wrong. As a brunette with a little more meat on her bones than we see from here these days, she is freakin’ hot…and some of you know how I feel about this era, right? That being said, there was no need for her to be there. She serves as eye candy pretty much, and nothing more. She brings nothing to the story and without her, nothing will be lost.

Pacing. The first 3/4 of the film go by rather slow, but it develops the characters and tells the story. Once Brashear defiantly graduates, though, it seems like there was a rush to finish the picture. Save for the accident that took his leg and the triumphant courtroom scene, one could forget that last quarter.

Rapport. Poor Michael Rappaport. It is obvious he was cast to be some kind of comedic sidekick/comic relief and yet he gets kicked out of the program after a couple of scenes and then we only briefly see him again late in the film. I don’t know if that’s how things went, but I wouldn’t have minded if they would have given him something better and/or more to do. Plus, this film could have used something to lighten the mood here and there.

Men of Honor is one of those films that you would imagine critics would be falling head over heels for, but for some reason they just thought it was ok. Guess other films gave them more money to get glowing reviews. I love this film and highly insist that you see it! With a stellar cast, great storytelling, a but of tragedy, and some defiant courage, this is sure to be something you’ll enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

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