Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: George Tillman
Stars: Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding jr, Charlize Theron
This true story of racism and military heroism ultimately fails to satisfy. In the 1940’s, Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding jr), a poor sharecropper’s son, was determined to become the first Afro-American diver in the Navy. Not only did he have to struggle against the racism of the navy that deliberately tried to flunk him out of the diver’s gruelling training course, but he also had to overcome the loss of a leg during an accident at sea. Brashear’s story is one of struggle and determination, but Scott Marshall Smith’s screenplay takes a number of liberties with the facts for dramatic purposes and turns this worthy story into little more than a shameless melodrama that hits a number of emotional buttons. There’s even a climactic court room sequence that somehow seems too bizarre to be realistic.
The direction from George Tillman (Soul Food, etc) is rather pedestrian, although some of the underwater sequences are well-made and genuinely exciting stuff. Originally entitled Navy Diver, Men Of Honour ultimately comes across as a worthy cross between An Officer And A Gentleman, A Few Good Men, and any of those myriad true stories in which the central character shows great personal courage in overcoming a handicap to succeed. With firmer direction Men Of Honour could have been a much more exciting and stirring film.
Gooding delivers a strong if overly stoic performance as Brashear, and suffuses the character with a sense of determination.
The workaholic Robert De Niro delivers a rather eccentric performance as Master Chief Navy Diver Billy Sunday, the embittered former heroic navy diver reduced to the position of overseeing training at a navy base in New Jersey, who makes life tough for his charges. Falling into alcoholism and fits of rebellion against the navy, Sunday finally gains a measure of redemption when he helps Brashear triumph against the narrow minded policies of the officious, bureaucratic Hanks (David Conrad), who sees the modern navy as having no place for dinosaurs like them. De Niro’s gruff, demanding character is actually a composite, created to beef up the proceedings, but ends up little more than a cliche.
Charlize Theron finds herself stuck in an embarrassingly thankless role as Sunday’s far too young wife, and has little impact.