Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, Aunjanue Ellis
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Running Time: 129 mins
Men Of Honor is an American film about the true story of Carl Brashear, the first African-American and first amputee to work as a US Navy Diver, and his time under the training of a former Master Chief Diver.
This is a really good biopic, centring on a not overly well-known but still important and inspiring history about a hugely impressive figure, coming together with excellent drama, great performances and strong directing, and yet still enough heart and joy to make the film as pleasant a watch as it is riveting, something that I feel makes it far more impressive and watchable than a lot of similar films.
Let’s start off with the story. You may think that this sounds like nothing more than Oscar bait. An African-American man defies all odds with his unending determination and resolve to become the first ot achieve something truly great, particularly in the face of real injustice. In effect, that is the pure formula for Oscar bait, but it really doesn’t feel like that in Men Of Honor.
Yes, there is a bit of Hollywood cheese, and there are a couple of moments where things are a little bit too inspiring, but it’s the depth and detail of the story that actually manages to keep what would have been an otherwise Oscar-baity movie on the ground and genuinely interesting.
First off, the central character of Carl Brashear is fantastic. With an excellent lead performance from Cuba Gooding Jr., he’s a hugely likable lead, but the way that he’s represented as a man with such personal drive, will and ambition, makes him so relatable as the lead of the movie, something that plays a big role in keeping the story interesting, as well as keeping its feet on the ground instead of getting carried away into too big of a historical narrative.
Then there’s his relationship with Robert De Niro’s character, Master Chief Sunday, which adds an extra level of intrigue and drama to the story. De Niro plays Sunday fantastically, and creates enough uncertainty around his own attitude towards Brashear’s presence to keep his character, and the dynamic between the two, really interesting throughout the movie, something that helps to prevent Men Of Honor from being a one-trick pony of an uplifting history.
One of the other things that I really loved about Men Of Honor was the fact that it had a bit of joy to it. Again, some of the cheesier moments, particularly centring around Bashear’s personal life, don’t always do much to make the film more impressive, however there’s something about the fact that it’s a film that wasn’t afraid to have a little bit of fun while still honouring an impressive historical figure that I really loved.
Too many biopics in recent years, particularly those that focus on African-Americans’ struggle for Civil Rights, often go too far in replicating the grittier realism of the period. While it’s a history that can’t be ignored, I feel that there aren’t enough films anymore quite like this, where you can still come to appreciate the history, be enraged by the injustice, and still have a good time at the movies with an uplifting, heartfelt and often fully joyful story.
Overall, I really liked Men Of Honor. It’s a fascinating historical biopic, and with two excellent lead performances, makes a fascinating central relationship around the two main characters. It’s not just an uplifting Oscar-bait movie, but rather a genuinely enjoyable and still hugely interesting story that you’ll surely be riveted by from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.4.