Starring: Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr
Director: George Tillman
I WAS never moved by Bryce Courtney’s The Power of One because the many dreadful things that happen to the hero seem so contrived – it’s all too much.
Men of Honour could easily have left me cold if it was a work of fiction. It is, however, closely based on the autobiography of Carl Brashear.
His book and this film chronicle one man’s fight against poverty, racism and disability.
Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr) is born into a poor, black family in the racist heartland of the deep south of the USA. In 1950 his father encourages him to enlist in the navy to get an education and improve his prospects. Brashear is taken on as a deckhand, but aspires to be a diver.
Standing in his way is Master Chief Navy Diver Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro). Sunday is racist, violent and sadistic.
Up to this time there has never been a black diver in the US Navy and Sunday wants to keep it that way. Brashear has to overcome his lack of education, the ignorance of his fellow sailors and institutional racism to achieve his ambition.
Men of Honour is a worthy film about overcoming the odds. It has several moving moments and is technically well made.
Gooding and De Niro deliver the sort of nuanced performances that give shape to what could be otherwise two-dimensional characters and Scott Marsh Smith’s screenplay keeps the action flowing.
The problem with this film is that it is, in fact, three films in one. Brashear’s battle with class, race and disability fit neatly into a three-part structure and throughout Men of Honour our hero battles against the odds on the farm, on a ship, at boot camp, on the job, in love, at home and in court.
What makes this film inspiring is the depth of Brashear’s spirit in the face of evil. What makes it searing is that this is the life he had to live.