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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/5/01

Men of Honor
Special Edition - 2000 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Men of Honor: Special Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A-

Specs and Features

128 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:58, in chapter 9), keep case packaging, audio commentary track (with director George Tillman, Jr., star Cuba Gooding, Jr., producer Robert Teitel, and writer Scott Marshall Smith), The Making of Men of Honor featurette, MasterChief: A Tribute to Carl Brashear featurette, alternate ending and 11 deleted scenes (all with director's introduction and optional director's commentary), storyboards/animatic for the submarine scene (with optional director's commentary), music video for Win by Brian McKnight, 2 theatrical trailers, 2 TV spots, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Men of Honor is a true story based on the life of the Navy's first African American Master Chief Diver, Carl Brashear (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., who looks uncannily like the real man). Brashear grew up in the '30s and '40s, part of a family of crop sharers who had a history of poor education and poverty. As a child, Brashear's father only wanted for his son to have more in life than he had. So he filled the young man with a strong spirit and a remarkable sense of self-motivation and persistence. Because Brashear's one ambition as a child was to become a Master Chief Diver in the Navy, at the age of 17 he left home to pursue his dreams.

Encountering brutal racism and abuse in the Navy, Brashear grits his teeth and thumbs his nose at the norm by being an African American who stands up for himself, and demands to be more than a cook or a steward (which traditionally were the only jobs for African Americans in the Navy during those years). Brashear pushes past each and every obstacle and continually demonstrates his abilities to his superior officers. Eventually, he finds himself one step closer to his dream and enters the Navy's Master Diving School, where he again faces terrible racist abuse. Despite every person around him telling him to give up because the Navy would never let him become a diver, Brashear continues forward, motivated by the lessons taught to him long ago by his father. But the biggest obstacle facing Brashear is Master Chief Diver Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro). Sunday is a bitter, racist man, who had his own diving career cut short by a tragic accident. Sunday also happens to have a problem with authority, and is usually in trouble with the Navy brass. So our main bit of dramatic tension lies in the fact that Brashear's future rest in the hands of Sunday, who has the power to pass or fail Brashear on a whim. So the struggling young seaman must defy convention and prove that he has what it takes.

Men of Honor is an interesting film, with a very impressive performance by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Gooding spent a lot of time studying and becoming knowledgeable about the man behind the story, and it really shows in his performance. Gooding plays the film with heart and sincerity, never descending into unnecessary melodrama. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for De Niro, who tends to be a little over-the-top in his role as Billy Sunday. Sunday's character is an amalgamation of two men from Brashear's life, and perhaps the task of portraying two very different people at once (one of whom was a racist, and the other Brashear's mentor) proved challenging for De Niro - his character's arc is much more pronounced and predictable than anyone else's in the film. It's not a bad performance by any means, but it's just not one of his best, and Gooding always manages to outshine him in their scenes together.

While Men of Honor is a glorious tale of one man rising against impossible odds to accomplish his dream, this is a theme Hollywood has already visited many times before. It's not hard to figure out what's going to happen at the end, and the stereotypical characters do and say things that you would fully expect them to. However, the moral of the story is very significant and the filmmakers do a fine job of expressing it. Which brings me to a similar point. While it would have been easy to root this film in the realm of racism, that's really not what the film's ultimately about. In a refreshing change of pace, the filmmakers chose to use racism only as an obstacle and not a crutch. Brashear's persistence and bravery was born from the idea that everybody around him told him he could never achieve his dreams. It was this negativity that motivated him to make incredible sacrifices. No matter how vile and hideous, Brashear endured the racism because he felt that it was something that would have to be tolerated to achieve his goal. And by standing up for what he believed was right, never bowing under pressure and, most importantly, by demonstrating that he was everything he claimed to be and more, Brashear won the hearts and respect of those that hurt him the most. Men of Honor never turns into a preachy, anti-racism diatribe, but always stays firmly rooted in the message of persistence and determination no matter how bad the odds.

Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen (16x9 enhanced), Men of Honor on DVD looks beautiful. Colors and picture detail are very nicely rendered, as are the darker scenes underwater. Only occasional and minor compression artifacting detracts from the experience. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also a treat, featuring wonderful surround envelopment (particularly during the underwater scenes), and always-intelligible dialogue. This soundtrack is definitely more exciting and refined than the ones on many other docudramas.

Fox has added a number of interesting supplements to this disc. Starting with a commentary track (featuring director George Tillman, Jr., star Cuba Gooding, Jr., producer Robert Teitel, and writer Scott Marshall Smith), the audience is given great insight into how the characters were developed in the script and how the actors researched them. The participants also spend a good deal of time discussing what in the film was reality and what was added to the story for dramatic enhancement. The Making of Men of Honor featurette, which runs about 14 minutes, contains interviews by the cast and director. Some behind-the-scenes footage is shown, along with discussions of the diving suits worn by the actors and the training the cast went through to prepare for the dangerous dives. The MasterChief: A Tribute to Carl Brashear featurette runs about 7 minutes, and is a look at the man behind the story. The real Carl Brashear is interviewed, and the audience is treated to a brief history of this very interesting man's life and how it translated to the screen. An alternate ending, which reveals the fate of Billy Sunday, has been included, as well as 11 deleted scenes all introduced by the director with optional director's commentary. Storyboards animatics for the submarine scene (with optional director's commentary), a music video for Win by Brian McKnight, 2 theatrical trailers and 2 TV spots conclude the supplementary section.

Men of Honor is an inspiring true story about a man fighting against the odds to achieve his life's dream. Cuba Gooding, Jr. does an outstanding job in his role and the film is definitely worth viewing even if it's pretty formulaic by Hollywood standards. Fans of the film will definitely want to own this DVD, given its quality and interesting extras.

Greg Suarez
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