A biography of Carl Brashear, who struggled against institutionalised racism to become the first black graduate of the US Navy Dive School. Later in his career, Brashear is injured on duty and struggles again to overcome prejudice.
The last decade has seen African-American actors have to re-make the films other ethnicities got out of the way years ago. This is a late-coming entry in the cycle of soldier-with-a-problem films made at the time Men Of Honour's story takes place (Pride Of The Marines, 1945, The Wings Of Eagles, 1957, Monkey On My Back, 1957), all focusing on the hard times and inspirational against-the-odds achievements of real-life servicemen.
Navy diver Carl Brashear covers two bases: no sooner has he overcome racism than he loses a leg and has to take on bigoted attitudes to the differently-abled. If he'd been gay too, the film would be an hour longer.
Gooding Jr., spurred on by an early speech from dirt-poor Daddy (Carl Lumbly) about not turning out like him, displays the required true grit, saving lives beneath the waters (including, in an unrecognisable turn, Blair Witch vet Joshua Leonard) and standing up for his rights on dry land. He also has a love interest, crying scenes, a courtroom appearance, tests of endurance, a patriotic Cold War victory over a Russian sub and interracial bonding with fellow ex-muledriver De Niro, which is really too much for one performance to cope with.
Some entertainment value comes from De Niro's spirited reading of the traditional role of the brawling training NCO, who tortures his students for their own good and is secretly a man of mush whenever the flag is raised, while there's a strange extended cameo from Charlize Theron as his high-born hottie wife.
The story lurches across the decades to focus on significant bits of the hero's life, with editorialising dollops of speech-making hammering home emotional points which the intense acting, gruelling underwater scenes or syrupy score have already made.
The sort of picture studios make in the hope of a bunch of awards (note the presence of previous winners and nominees), but which tends to fall off the radar if not done amazingly well. As is the case here.