Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr, Charlize Theron
Director: George Tillman
MEN OF HONOR tells the story of navy diver Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr). The story is worth telling because Brashear, the son of a black sharecropper from Kentucky, lived a very remarkable life. He stood up to deeply entrenched institutional racism in the US Navy and through sheer determination became the first African American Master Chief Diver in the 1950s and 60s. This was an age where black men were only recruited into the navy to work as cooks or cleaners but Brashear, a fantastic swimmer was determined to follow his calling. Once in the navy it took him two years and a hundred letters to get accepted into the prestigious Navy Dive School Programme.
Brashear is a hero because he triumphs in the face of adversity and in MEN OF HONOR the face of adversity is not only the US Navy but Robert De Niro, a bitter old sea-dog, Chief Diver turned trainer, who has had his career cut short having injured his lungs in one too many dare-devil diving expeditions. Brashear chose the most difficult of environments to assert himself – a military world of rules, regulation and racism. Only one man out of twenty will “bunk with a nigger”, share the same quarters with him and Brashear remains alienated throughout his training despite being top of the class.
This is a ‘God Bless America’ kind of a film. Americans love a hero and love to think that the American dream is still alive. MEN OF HONOR is a male buddy movie that every naval conscript who has the misfortune to be sent away to sea for months at a time will add to his video collection along with TOP GUN (Naval aviators!), and dodgy porn tapes. We’ve seen it all before even though Gooding Jnr and De Niro deliver great performances. This is a world where Daddy knows best and tells you to be the best even if he’s never there, never cries and never tells you that he loves you. It’s a world where women are cardboard cutouts tearing their hair out with frustration because they can’t change their man, but neither can they stop loving him, even if they’re extremely bright (in this case Brashear’s wife has a medical degree.) This is the kind of film that even has a ‘God Bless America’ soundtrack to go with it – you know the kind – strings in all the right places. But don’t forget Brashear’s life and bravery is still worth celebrating.