Men of Honor is the true story of the first African-American U.S. Navy Diver. Taking place in a period that spans from the late 1940's to the 1960's, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Carl Brashear, a sailor who struggles to climb the ranks of a racially intollerant military.
Robert DeNiro plays Billy Sunday, the Navy dive instructor whose reluctant duty is to train Carl just as well as the other sailors he commands. DeNiro's character is a fictional personification of the many Navy instructors that Carl Brashear served under. Sunday is tough as nails, and not afraid to prove that fact whenever the opportunity arises.
The one thing that Carl and Billy have in common is the idea that, once in a while, the status quo needs a good, swift kick in the ass. Neither of them fails to make that opinion known, to the military establishment, or to each other.
Carl's story is an inspiring one, but loses some of its potential strength with its translation to the silver screen. The events depicted are pure, stock Hollywood, without the grit and substance that a true biography deserves. I find it difficult to believe that Carl Brashear's life, or the life of anyone else, includes as many cliches as are present in this film. This is, first and formost, a movie about duty, loyalty, and honor. The true life events always seem to play a secondary role to the "Gung-Ho", crowd-pleasing Hollywood formula of military drama.
Also, the fictional character of Billy Sunday, as portrayed by Robert DeNiro, is much more complex than Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Carl Brashear. Brashear is played as a one-dimensional underdog hero, while Sunday carries a dramatic weight that equals that of many of DeNiro's finest roles. The problem isn't with Cuba Gooding Jr.'s acting, but with how these characters were written. It's quite rare to find the fictional character of a true story to be more compelling than the central, real character, but it happens here.
So, while Men of Honor is less than perfect, as far as true stories are concerned, it does have some spirited, patriotic scenes, some good acting, and an inspiring message.
(I would still like to see a completely fictional Billy Sunday Story!)
Directed By: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Charlize Theron,
Hal Holbrook, Michael Rapaport, Powers Booth
Rated: R (Language / Violence)
Running Time: 128 Min.