Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), an Afro-American recruit with the U.S. Navy, discovers his vocation in life when he is transferred to an elite training school for deep-sea divers. Yet despite the recent abolition of segregation, Carl still suffers from the lingering racism it has left in its wake; finding himself rejected by many of his fellow trainees, victimized by the school's bigoted commanding officer Mr Pappy (Hal Holbrook), and pushed to breaking point by chief training officer Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro). Nevertheless, Carl refuses to quit and soon he and Sunday establish a mutual respect which will see them through their many subsequent trials.
Originally, Men of Honour
was simply called Navy Diver
and no doubt all involved held high hopes that it would be an award-winning biopic. Unfortunately, Carl Brashear's life as the first African-American Master Diver went through that vaguely distasteful contemporary Hollywood Marketing makeover and the result is not quite so worthy of its subject and intentions. The film's hopelessly clichéd tagline reads, "History is made by those who break the rules"; the direction is shot through with sunsets 'n' slow-mo; and the script is peppered with foreshadowing dialogue ("don't end up like me son").
The plot devices follow a predictable arc: family poverty, a swiftly sweet romance, a shock accident, court hearing and, naturally, a grisly antagonist. It's with the last of these that the movie comes to life. We may have seen De Niro spit nails countless times before, but his saltily intractable Master Chief is a terrific screen creation. Next to him, Cuba Gooding Jr really does shine as the endlessly persecuted Brashear. All-too brief cameos from Charlize Theron and Michael Rapaport lend sparkle too. But the film's message about how social attitudes toward race have changed is lost in a murky haze of Hollywoodisation. As one character declares, "some things just don't mix". --Paul Tonks
--This text refers to an alternate