Dir: George Tillman Jr. US. 2000. 120mins.

Prod Co: Fox 2000 Pictures. Int'l Sales: 20th Century Fox. Prods: Robert Teitel, Bill Badalato. Exec Prods: Bill Cosby, Stanley Robertson. Scr: Scott Marshall Smith. DoP: Anthony B Richmond. Prod des: Leslie Dilley. Ed: John Carter. Mus: Mark Isham. Main cast: Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr, Charlize Theron, Aunjaune Ellis, Hal Holbrook, Michael Rapaport, Powers Boothe, David Keith.

An inspirational account of one man's monumental victory over race prejudice and personal adversity, Men Of Honor is an uncomplicated exercise in hero worship elevated by craftsmanship and fine performances into a potential crowd-pleaser. Director George Tillman Jr heads straight to the heart of a true story, creating an unashamedly traditional film of powerful emotions and clear-cut drama.

Although it may prove too unadventurous for some critical tastes, audience enthusiasm should be potent enough to guarantee a substantial hit. International appeal will rest with the stars and whether the film secures any award recognition at the end of the year. Its American release date is set for November 10.

In the afterglow of his Jerry Maguire Oscar win, Cuba Gooding Jr has struggled to find the kind of leading role that plays to his strengths. Here, he is perfectly cast as Carl Brashear, the son of a Kentucky sharecropper who set his sights on becoming a Navy diver at a time in the 1940s when President Truman had just desegregated the services. Facing widespread opposition and bigotry, his biggest nemesis is Master Chief Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro), a white trash officer festering with resentment and hatred.

As the proud, indomitable Brashear makes superhuman efforts to prove his worth, even the curmudgeonly Sunday is forced to acknowledge his virtues. The film provides countless illustrations of Brashear's courage and tenacity as well as the Navy's contemptible efforts to squash his spirit. In later life, Brashear loses a leg and fights a further battle for reinstatement in which the older, wiser Sunday comes full circle to support and encourage him.

Giving one of his more memorable performances from the past few years, De Niro provides glimpses of the pain and flawed humanity behind his character's unyielding exterior whilst Gooding Jr summons up all the righteous anger and integrity that his role demands. Their compelling performances and the emotional pull of the story make a fairly irresistible combination.