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Movie Review

This movie is based on the real-life exploits of Carl Brashear, the son of a poor Kentucky sharecropper. Carl is a dreamer, and he let’s nothing stand in the way of those dreams. Upon joining the newly desegregated U.S. Navy in 1948, Carl’s hope for adventure hits the wall when he is assigned to the ship’s galley as a cook, as were many African-Americans at that time. After seeing a deep-sea diver in action, however, he determines to join the Navy diving program. After two years of requests and refusals to attend the Navy’s diving school, he finally finds an officer to endorse his dream. Upon reporting to the school, though, Carl runs smack into another wall—in this case, Master Chief Billy Sunday, the grizzled veteran who runs the program. What follows is an inspiring story of Carl’s grit in overcoming a meager education, the racism of the day, a potentially career-ending injury, gross injustice and many other obstacles thrown in his way as he strives to reach his life’s goal: achieving Master Diver certification in the U.S. Navy. By the end of the film, even the most hardened racists come to admire Carl’s spirit.

positive elements: This film stresses the strength of family, as Carl uses the inspiration of his father to achieve his goals. His father’s advice: "Don’t quit when it gets hard." Father and son plow side by side in a unified effort to save the family job. At one point, Carl is asked, "Why do you want this so badly?" He responds, "Because they said I couldn’t have it." When Carl’s "final exam" is sabotaged, he doesn’t complain, but forges ahead in spite of the persecution. Fidelity in marriage is stressed, despite strains. The importance of a good education is communicated when Carl almost loses his dream because of a lack of one, but is assisted by a selfless librarian who later becomes his wife. Strength of character, fortitude, loyalty and courage—both physical and moral—are paramount in this story. A white sailor refuses to join in the bigotry of his shipmates and the pressure to ostracize Carl. Carl is able to repay the act of courage later in the story by winning back the recruit’s spot on the team. Sunday risks his own safety and severe discipline to go after a shipmate in trouble (it costs him his own diving career). Carl saves the life of a fellow trainee, and is silent when a coward accepts the medal for it (though everyone else knows who the real hero is). The closing credits roll over a song by Brian McKnight entitled "Win" that says, "If I fall I’ll never fail/I’ll just get up and try again/Never lose hope, never lose faith. . . ."

spiritual content: Oblique. Chief Sunday taunts trainees by referring to the famed evangelist whose name he shares: "The only difference between me and that old preacher is that he worked for God," Sunday says, "but I am God!" Sunday calls Bayonne, N.J., a "pimple on God’s a--." A sailor comments aboard ship that "hell ain’t got nothin’ on the South Pacific."

sexual content: An officer admonishes sailors about to go on leave that "one-night stands are over in the morning, but syphilis lasts forever." References to intimate petting, a crude sex act and sexual relations between ’40s screen stars Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams.

violent content: Viewers see the aftermath of a helicopter crash, but not the crash itself. There’s a fist fight at a party, and a harrowing rescue scene aboard a sinking ship. Sunday attacks an orderly with a bedpan. A diver is literally run over by a submarine. Carl’s leg is nearly severed in a shipboard accident, and the camera briefly shows the gory wound. Chief Sunday threatens to break a Marine’s jaw.

crude or profane language: God’s name is taken in vain more than 20 times. At least a dozen uses of the f-word. Many other uses of crude language including the s-word. Carl is called the n-word by racists throughout the story. Sexual and anatomical slang are common.

drug and alcohol content: Chief Sunday is frequently shown with a corncob pipe in his mouth. Many characters smoke cigarettes or cigars, and drink beer and other alcoholic beverages at a bar and at a party. Sunday is a drunk, and an obnoxious one at that. He does successfully kick the habit by the end of the film, however, an exercise in self-control that saves his marriage.

other negative elements: Many of the traits that make Carl a strong protagonist are taken too far. For example, his single-minded determination to achieve the status of Master Diver alienates his wife and son. Chief Sunday eventually comes to admire and defend Carl, but he is stubborn to the point of insubordination, and is court-martialed several times during the film. Also, a diver’s barroom version of "chicken" could inspire dangerous copycat behavior.

conclusion: This film contains so much that would be good for teens to watch, including an overall uplifting message. Even some of the negative elements could have been used as a good discussion starter between parents and teens. Unfortunately, excessive foul language and crude sexual references will deep-six this film for most families.

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Robert De Niro as Master Chief Billy Sunday; Cuba Gooding Jr. as Carl Brashear; Aunjanue Ellis as Jo; Charlize Theron as Gwen; Michael Rapaport as Snowhill; Hal Holbrook as Mr. Pappy


George Tillman Jr. ( )


20th Century Fox



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Tom Neven

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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