Summary of the Movie "One Man's Hero"

by Rachel Murray

"One Man's Hero" stars Tom Berenger as Sgt. John Riley.

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A historical drama directed by Lance Hool in 1999, "One Man's Hero" stars Tom Berenger, Joaquim de Almeida and Daniela Romo. Set from 1846 to 1848, the movie takes place during the Mexican-American War. The title alludes to the saying "One man's hero is another man's traitor." The movie chronicles the journey of a group of Irish soldiers who deserted the U.S. army after being poorly treated and persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Plot Summary

"One Man's Hero" follows the story of Sgt. Jon Riley, an Irishman who came to the United States during the Irish potato famine. Riley and other Irishmen were promised citizenship in exchange for serving in the American Army, which was mostly Protestant. However, after being whipped for traveling to Mexico to attend a Catholic mass, Riley and his regiment escape to Mexico, a Catholic nation, in hopes of finding passage back to Ireland. When the Mexican-American War begins, Riley and his followers form the Saint Patrick's Battalion, fighting against U.S. forces.


While traveling to Mexico, Riley and his men encounter Cortina, a leader of guerrilla forces. Cortina is suspicious of Riley, and he imprisons him and his men. However, Cortina and and Riley eventually become allies, even after Riley falls in love with Marta, Cortina's lover. When armed conflict begins with the United States, Riley realizes that if he is captured by U.S. forces he will be hanged. After agonizing over the decision, he and his men form the Saint Patrick's Battalion, which becomes one of the best fighting forces in Mexico.


Opening in only 52 theaters nationwide, "One Man's Hero" earned a domestic gross of about $240,000. The film did not receive many reviews, but the ones it did receive were not favorable. The Los Angeles Times said the film "has the stuff of a cavalry classic ... but it lacks the vision and personality to attain such a level of artistry." Variety magazine said the movie "suffers greatly from both a visibly constrained budget and an extraordinarily dated feeling."


Viewed as heroes by the Irish in Mexico and Ireland, the men in the St. Patrick's Battalion receive barely any recognition in U.S. historical accounts. Known as Las Companias de San Patricio in Mexico, not all members in the battalion were deserters from the U.S. army; many were Irishmen who had settled in Mexico. The St. Patrick's Battalion fought at Monterrey and Matamoros and was noted for its skills in heavy weaponry, states the Society for Irish Latin American Studies. After the Battle of Churubusco, the remaining battalion members were imprisoned, and later many, including John O'Reilly, whose name is John Riley in the film, were tortured and hanged.

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