We Were Soldiers, an unabashedly pro-military look at the first major battle of the Vietnam era, has an impact that transcends politics and some dramatic overreaching by writer-director Randall Wallace. The film is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, by Hal Moore, the lieutenant colonel who led 400 of his men into battle at Landing Zone X-Ray in Ia Drang Valley in November 1965, and by Joseph Galloway, the civilian reporter and photographer who accompanied them. Mel Gibson, who starred in and directed the Wallace script for Braveheart, plays Moore with stalwart vigor, and the excellent Barry Pepper portrays Galloway. Sam Elliott, Chris Klein and Greg Kinnear take the roles of other real-life soldiers who faced an ambush by 2,000 North Vietnamese. Wallace intercuts the combat with domestic scenes showing Mrs. Moore (Madeleine Stowe) rallying the soldiers' wives in the face of casualties. The battle, expertly shot by Dean Semler, captures the chaos of guerrilla warfare paralleled in Black Hawk Down and gives the film a scarring documentary realism.