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Men of Honor (2000) star star star

Reviewed 2001-10-25: This is an uplifting story about not giving in despite overwhelming odds. It is based on the biography of Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the first black, and later the first amputee, to become a Master Chief Navy Diver. Second Look ReviewAnd it is also about Master Chief Billy Sunday (Robert DeNiro) the man who trained him. Carl Brashear enlists in the Navy, hoping to become a diver, but finds himself stuck in the ship's galley. But a lucky break and a compassionate officer get Carl reassigned as a seaman on a search and rescue ship where he first encounters Master Chief Sunday, who risks his life, and disobeys direct orders, in an attempt to save another man's life. As a result, Sunday finds his diving career finished.

Two years later, Brashear gets a slot at the U.S. Navy Dive and Salvage School in New Jersey, where Sunday is the instructor under the mentally unstable Mr. Pappy (Hal Holbrook). He works hard to graduate, but Carl's grades reflect his sharecropper son's upbringing, so he enlists Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), a pre-med student, to tutor him. Of course a romance develops, too.

While Men of Honor had the requisite tear-jerking, manipulative moments -- and a few that make you want to say, huh? (such as an unescorted black woman entering an all-white bar frequented by navy men -- and the utter irrelevance of Charlize Theron as Sunday's wife), I enjoyed this film. The men of honor turn out to be both Sunday and Brashear. Gooding is a superb actor and the quality of DeNiro's work is unsurpassed. I couldn't figure out why Theron was in the film, but she's always nice to look at, even if she doesn't get much of a chance to show off her considerable talent. The measure of a movie is to evoke a time and a place. I think Men of Honor did so accurately and (dare I say it?) honorably.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.