Main cast: Robert De Niro (Master Chief Leslie Sunday), Cuba Gooding Jr (Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Carl Brashear), Charlize Theron (Gwen Sunday), Aunjanue Ellis (Jo Brashear), Hal Holbrook (“Mr.Pappy”), Michael Rapaport (Gunners Mate Snowhill), Powers Boothe (Captain Pullman), David Keith (Captain Hartigan), Holt McCallany (Machinist’s Mate First Class Dylan Rourke), David Conrad (Captain Hanks), and Joshua Leonard (Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Douglas Isert)
Director: George Tillman Jr
Men of Honor has heart, I’ll give it that. It tells the story of real-life Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, the first African American to attain that rank, and it maps his life from his early recruitment days to the day he triumphs over a crippling injury and racism.
But it is also a fake, swarmy greeting card filled with all the standard saccharine anthems one could expect from a movie that is determined to force-feed me to feel good.
To call this movie a black version of Forrest Gump may be a bit too harsh, but the Brashear in this movie is just as one-dimensional, singularly determined, and absolutely devoid of weaknesses as Gump. In short, he isn’t real, but a saintly caricature, sometimes condescendingly so, created in this context only to make me cheer for his humanity and determination.
Such as, for instance, I’m to accept that he wants to be a diver because his Daddy gave him a radio and told him, “Don’t be like me.” It doesn’t help that Brashear says lines that make me cringe, such as “Because they said I couldn’t have it!” – his answer to the question as to why he wants to be have a diver certificate.
There’s the token Evil White Racist who ends up his ally. The sole Unbiased White Buddy in a camp full of bigots. Oh, I know, real life can be like that too, but really, isn’t all this a plot device that is also used in a zillion Hallmark movies?
Cube Gooding Jr plays his role with all his best, with all the charisma he has, but alas, his character is a one-note Care Bear determined to make me cheer for him. Robert De Niro is absolutely wasted as a sneering, unconvincing baddie, and the supporting characters are sleepwalking.
Really, won’t it be better to cut down the sugar and let Brashear be human instead of some saintly, superhuman black champion against injustice? Real life heroes are more often than not down-to-earth while larger-than-life. In Men of Honor, heroes are armed with giant tablespoons of sugar – mercy on those caught in their way.