Men of Honor Movie Review

Diving movies rule!

I just can't seem to get enough of the thrill of the being submerged in hundreds of feet of water with the ever-present threat of drowning all around me. You know, that feeling of small animals crawling into my wetsuit or larger animals deciding to eat me whole. The intoxicating sensation of my lungs exploding from gas build-up in my lungs. How can you argue with that?

There have been hundreds of diving movies made -- The Big Blue, The Abyss, and all those Ester Williams movies in the fifties. But wait -- the latest Hollywood diving opus has arrived, just in time for Oscar consideration and to salvage -- pun intended -- one actor's career from the murky depths of B-movies.

Men of Honor, based on a true story, tells the tale of Carl Brashear, the first African-American to reach the rank of Master Chief Diver in the U.S. Navy (taking place during the pre-scuba 1950s and 1960s). It's a valiant attempt to tell a thought-provoking story about overcoming racism and working through the political machinery of a white man's Navy (while being harassed at every turn by Robert De Niro). Cuba Gooding Jr. - shaking off the bad memories of such films as Chill Factor and Instinct, portrays Brashear, a hardheaded, black, Southern son of a sharecropper, who heads off to the Navy to pursue dreams of glory beyond the life of his father and the farm. In the Navy, Carl encounters racist work conditions and Mr. De Niro - who plays gruff, racist Master Chief Diver Billy Sunday with an over-the-top performance.

Eventually receiving the recognition of the ship's captain (a small bit part by the great Powers Boothe), Brashear is given the duties of white, enlisted men. Two years later, Brashear is accepted at the Navy Diver School run by that gruff, racist Master Chief De Niro. You can imagine what follows: The guilt-ridden drive to achieve the dreams of his father, the trials of acceptance into white society, the conversion of De Niro into a sympathetic character, the Oscar speeches about not giving up and striving forward, and the near-death of our young hero. You know what I mean, the standard Hollywood drama stuff.

The most surprising element of the film is the strong performance by Cuba Gooding Jr. His brooding face and stout movements give great depth and pose to the character. Too bad that Robert De Niro's characters are becoming pieces of other characters from past movies he's been in. His Billy Sunday is a combination of Cape Fear's Max Cady, Mean Streets' Johnny Boy Cervello, and Casino's Sam Rothstein. Charlize Theron and Aunjanue Ellis are strong as the quiet and supporting wives but stand as the most underdeveloped of all of the characters.

It's a real shame that instead of investigating the era's racism, Men of Honor just paints broad strokes -- people from the South or from Brooklyn must detest all black people in the film. Instead of fleshing out these issues, the film is full of scenes that have now become clichés. The black man refuses the authority of the white man's rules. One man is determined to triumph over all obstacles in front of him. Too bad that after two-plus hours of meandering about, nothing in the movie leaves you with much determination to do anything except go to the bathroom.

As for the DVD, the disc is so exhaustive it will take you an entire weekend to get through all its features. These include a commentary track with all the principals, a making-of documentary, a profile and interview with Brashear, and tons of extended and deleted scenes -- including the original ending, which highlighted the death and burial of Billy Sunday. Recommended.

Heads will roll.


Men of Honor Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2000


More Robert De Niro

Special Effects Pioneer Dick Smith Dies Aged 92

The Oscar-winning make-up artist Dick Smith has died aged 92. In a career spanning over fifty years, Smith was responsible for some of the most...

Robert De Niro Crashes Stranger's Home To Watch World Cup

Who knew Robert De Niro is a big soccer fan.The legendary actor is known for taking his work very seriously, but it seems the World...

Robert De Niro Crashes World Cup Party in Brooklyn. Internet Explodes

Bill Murray, sir, you have competition. It turns out Robert De Niro is a pretty keen party crasher himself and during a visit to Brooklyn's...

Why Daniel Day-Lewis Deserves His Knighthood

Few actors impart an intensity and dedication to the process of characterization as relentlessly as Daniel Day-Lewis. The 57 year-old occupies a position in the...


As Robert De Niro Remembers His Father, We Look Back At The Artist's Life and Legacy

Actor Robert De Niro has been opening up about his artist father ahead of his HBO documentary, 'Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.' Apart...

Robert De Niro Talks About His Late Openly Gay Father, Ahead Of HBO Documentary Release

Robert De Niro is known to be very discreet when it comes to his private life, but in a rare occasion he recalled past memories...

'Raging Bull' Screenplay Copyright Lawsuit Given Second Chance In Court

The ongoing lawsuit, filed by Paula Petrella, daughter of deceased screenwriter Frank Petrella, was granted another shot at fighting the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc over...

'Raging Bull' Copyright Suit: Petrella Given Green Light To Pursue Royalties

The woman who holds the copyright to a 1963 screenplay has been told that she can pursue infringement claims against the studio behind 1980's Raging...