Of course when Brashear was coming up in the late 40’s and 50’s he had to deal with racism and bigotry at every turn. This film chronicles all the terrible shit he had to endure and his glorious triumph over all those assholes and institutions to achieve his dream of diving for the US Navy.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Chill Factor) does a pretty good job in the lead role turning on that irresistible charm or intense scowl when needed. But Robert De Niro (The Fan) as Brashear’s diving instructor/eventual friend Master Chief Billy Sunday steals the show. This guy didn’t exist in real life but these types of inspirational movies always have a character like that (Mickey from Rocky, Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back, John James Urgayle from G.I. Jane, etc.) and this is one of the greats in my opinion. As per usual he’s one tough bastard who’s seen it all and pushes his recruits hard as hell to whip them into shape. He even tells his men “I am God!” And goddammit, he’s the very best teacher in his field.
But the real reason I wanted to bring this underappreciated movie up is the speech Sunday gives in a bar to Brashear about the time he and his men were trapped in a sunken ship during WWII. I couldn’t find a clip of it so here’s the transcription (I know there’s no substitute for De Niro’s badass performance but this shit reads well anyway):
Sunday: You see this pipe? General MacArthur himself smoked this pipe. I served with him in Leyte Gulf. Biggest naval battle in history. Kamikaze ripped into this escort carrier, name of Saint Lo. She went down on a shallow reef trapping me and six boys in the fire room. Only one way out.
Brashear: Flood the compartment and swim up.
Sunday: Five decks, cookie. Five fuckin' decks. Locked bulk heads, dead bodies everywhere - you got to have your balls screwed on tight for that swim. We still had intercom. Old MacArthur himself came over that squawk box, "Sunday, you cocky son of a bitch I bet you can't hold your breath for four minutes and swim out of there." Know what I said back? "No Mac I can't, but I'll bet you your cob pipe I can hold it for five, 'cause that's what it's gonna take, motherfucker." There's six men still breathin' today, 'cause I led 'em out of that fire room. And now just 'cause you pulled little Isert's white little fuckin' ass out of some row boat sunk in a mud puddle, you think you're better than me? Well, let's just see.