Men Of Honor

on November 10, 2000 by Barbara Goslawski
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   Carl Brashear is a little-known but important figure in the American civil rights movement--little-known since the battle he fought was personal; important because he took on the U.S. Navy and won. At a time when there was no "movement" to speak of, Brashear challenged the Navy's unwritten rules of systemic racism.

   Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Brashear, a young man from a poor rural farm area. When he leaves to join the Navy, his father, whom he idolizes, makes him promise that no matter what he encounters or how hard things get, he will never, ever give up. Brashear stubbornly clings to this promise, setting his sights high: He wants to be a Navy diver. Navy divers are an elite group that must endure the toughest of training programs, and no black man had ever even been allowed to train. With formidable will and determination, Brashear not only targets this career, he aims for the top rank of Master Chief.

   Brashear's nemesis is Master Chief Billy Sunday, played by Robert De Niro. In this role, De Niro savors his chance to do what he does best as an actor--play an ornery tough guy, who really does have a heart in there somewhere. As these two powerhouse characters clash, Brashear earns Sunday's respect, and ultimately his friendship.

   Gooding's solid performance is one of the most powerful aspects of "Men of Honor." In a film about heroism, where hyperbole is unavoidable and myth-making a requirement, Gooding creates a credible depiction of Brashear's phenomenal strength of character.

   To its credit, the film itself never slips fully into overblown sentiment. Director George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food") invokes the customary conventions of this genre but infuses the film with a much-needed emotional depth that inspires without being trite. Starring Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Hal Holbrook. Directed by George Tillman Jr. Written by Scott Marshall Smith. Produced by Robert Teitel and Bill Badalato. A Fox release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 120 min

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