on February 10, 2004
Gods and Generals struck a raw nerve in the body politic. That's because when it comes to the Civil War people have already taken sides, often times without even knowing it. Most have assimilated and accepted the official, public education version of what happened as an article of faith. Abraham Lincoln is not just a man with flaws and qualities, not simply a shrewd politician and formidable leader. In this sub-conscious universe he has been elevated to the position of a deity. To question the received wisdom is to question one's very existence.
One has only to read many of the reviews in these pages to see the glib facility with which many have swallowed, hook, line and sinker the triumphalist propaganda always spread and taught by the victors - in all places at all times. It is just too discomfiting to think, even for a moment, that the American Civil War may not have been necessary. That all those lives need not have been lost. That all the destruction need not have taken place. That the horrible institution of slavery could and would have been abolished , as it was in the rest of the western hemisphere, by peaceful means.
Gods and Generals is not a perfect film. I cannot disagree with many of the artistic criticisms leveled against it. Its distinction however, arises from its soul. It is perhaps the most rigorously honest historical film in recent memory. It is truly, not superficially provocative because it forces you to re-think everything. It is the only film on the present scene to have truly earned and deserves the label, anti-war. For its fierce artistic independence and its intellectual honesty I give it five stars.
on June 27, 2003
I saw this movie at the Premiere in DC, and I was blown away by it. The critics saw the flaws in the film, I saw them too, but it all worked together for me. I was impressed that someone actually pulled off making an epic, and the aesthetic beauty of the film, and the genuine warmth, heart, and soul it had, something many a movie lacks these days.
Quick rundown of flaws: Some of the history is un-researched (but what can you expect from Hollywood?), especially concerning the costumes. But, despite complaints, the dialogue is correct (yep, those speeches were how they talked. Just go to your local college's library and pull out a war-time newspaper chock full of "going away speeches". Oy),a nd it would have been a shame to revert to monosylables. The script is untidy, but one must keep in mind that this film was originally cut from a 6 hour version, still Maxwell could have done much better with the screenplay. The women in the film were rather awkward and unecessary, though, unlike many, I liked the feminine touch. Some scenes seem to come out of nowhere and lead into nothing, and the movie moves quickly, jumpng over huge portions of time. The movie doesn't follow the book closely at all, choosing to make this the "Stonewall Jackson Movie", which can be an ambiguous (either negative or positive) choice, depending on the viewer. Thus, a great many of the beloved characters and scenes from the book are out.
But on top of all it's flaws, the film has charisma and heart, and does work, at least for me, despite what many of it's critics think. It doesn't feel cliched; rather, it feels fresh. The battle scenes, though lacking in gore, are extremely well choreographed and awe-inspiring. The score is amazing, and there's one song, "Going Home" which plays at the beginning, which is downright Oscar worthy. Stephen Lang brings in a true tour-de-force theatrical performance (he was, after all nominated for a Tony Award for A Few Good Men), in the legacy of many a great character actor. Mr. Lang doesn't have the most startling resemblance of Ol' Stonewall, but his sheer presence convinces you that he is. Jeff Daniels and a plethora of supporting actors deserve kudos for fine performances as well.
The film doesn't lack in poignant moments and, in it's own way, drives home the horror of war in scenes too numerous to count. Unlike many war films these days, this film is quiet. It makes you think, makes you pay attention. In many ways it reminds me of classical plays performed for the stage, or even Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (though it shares the same thoughtful, intellectual pace and graceful, natural visuals, it moves much more swiftly than dear Barry does).
This is a different film, to be sure. Don't be turned off by counting it's flaws. It has a deep, profound undercurrent that makes up for those. It can alternately wring genuine tears from or inspire it's viewers, without the use of cheap cinematic manipulation; this is a slow cooked film. This is a fine film about our national tragedy, not the best, but certainly fine, respectful, thoughtful, sorrowful, and indeed, stirring.
on February 13, 2004
Although I am life-long Civil War buff, I have always had difficulty understanding how a man could take up arms against neighbors and relatives of another state. Gods and Generals allowed me the experience of appreciating the human side of this war and insight into the historical and spiritual complexities that haunted each side. The result was overwelmingly powerful.
I've seen the film several times and discovered new meaning and understanding with each viewing. It is rich, alive and authentic film making.
on September 7, 2012
This is a long and detailed period film, lots of talking and lots of action, clocking at 4.5 hours.
The actors all give great and committed performances.
The sets and costumes are all very good to look at. Though some may object to all that talk about God and slavery or the one-sided perspective , even preachy in tone, I shall let those pass.
What cannot be ignored is how bad the battle sequences are filmed and edited. Tha camera angles are almost invariably the same, the Union soliders approach from the right or center, the Confederates from the left or the center. You don't see the whole perspective of the battle fields, you see snap shots and parts of the actions which are shot mostly in close up.
The director seems to want you to know there are a lot of actors around (hundreds if not thousands, CGI or real), but you don't have the feeling the battles are done large scale, because they are edited piece meals, and lots of it don't make sense.
Eg, a canonade was fired off by 8 or 10 cannons simultaneously, the next scene you see one single explosion on the ground....
the 20000 dead after the Battle of Antietam, where are they on screen ?? I counted may be a 100, here again one could use CGI effect but was not....one doesn't sense the horror of wars like one feels when confronted with the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind or the numerous albeit smaller scale scenes in The Pacific which were done so realistically, gut wrenching is that TV series from HBO.
the 82nd regiment advances onto the Confederate position, are they advancing uphill ?? not quite sure because they (or we) never see the opponents on the same canvas. Very few action scenes take into account of both sides on the same shot...unlike the same director's previous effort in Gettysburg where one sees both sides in action on the same shots.
And one more example, the crossing of the river at Fredericksberg was undertaken by THREE boats and 20 or so Union soldiers !!!! surely with a bit of CGI (if money and props were a problem), having some more men or boats can give the audience a bigger impression of the undertaking ?! Next scene, hundreds of Union soldiers show up in town...
The action other than that showing the deaths and the agony is hardly exciting. Everything is so orderly and so ordinary, so lacks imagination. There seems to be little panic or chaos in just about every battle sequence, as real battles should cause (contrast that in The Pacific).
Perhaps the director loves and reveres his subject matter too much to really LET IT ALL HANG OUT ???
General Jackson was well played by Mr Lang, but from studying a bit about Civil War history, he was by all accounts a charismatic, brave and daring tactician. But other than his God loving, family and slave loving human side, we see very very little evidence of a great soldier in action.
wish Spielberg had a hand in this.
Perhaps we should rename this film " More God than Generals" ??
on October 19, 2008
This was a must see for me after watching Gettysberg. It was OK. A few of the problems I had with it, is where was Tom Berenger?, maybe he got the script and decided to pass. Even Robert Duvall gave a sad showing. Everytime an actor opened there mouth I felt like I was at church, it was all over the top speeches, common. The battle sequences sucked, I mean all the bayonets were obviously plastic the way they wobbled back and forth. It looked like alot of it was computer animated, and the special effects seemed so outdated and looked, well, cheap. All in all it looked like a bad made for TV movie, the only reason I gave it three stars is, I was a Gettysberg fan, and if you edit this movie yourself by closing your eyes and drifting away everytime jackson opened his mouth, then its ok. The only time I though this movie had me at attention and emotionally connected was when Jackson whips out his sword and yells "you are the first brigade". Id rather sit down and watch North and South from beginning to end, its to bad, I liked Gettysberg and had Higher hopes for this.
on July 10, 2004
Glory was a great civil war film, it had characters with character, it had a story with a story, it had a believable premise. But, this movie I don't know what this movie was all about. The acting was like a cross between stage acting and politicians trying to act emotional about their causes on a debate stage. And to have it centered in the 19th Century south in this format is like having the cast of the Andy Griffith Show deliver their lines with Shakespearean drama, it just doesn't work. I really don't think General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson would be proud to be remember for his endless droning philosophy on lemonade.
This movie has been playing endlessly on cable for the last few months, and I admit I keep getting drawn into watching it, and if you turn the sound down it's not so bad as a silent movie, but the dialog is, well it's what it is. I could care less about the message personally. The facts about the motivation of the Confederacy are so muddled due to southern pride and political correctness I really don't expect a movie to portray them accurately.
Glory did at least make an effort not to sugar coat the reality of the time to a degree. You can't be politically correct about a time that just plain wasn't politically correct, and unfortunately in the times we live in this means that our history is being rewritten all around to either exaggerate the "bad" guys or glorify the "good" guys in whatever perspective the author seems to think those "guys" are. The simple fact is that 19th century America was a terribly racially divided place and it went much further than skin color and the South.
I guess I keep watching it trying to figure out how someone could bankroll so much effort in costuming and location shoots and battle scenes and all and wonder if they actually watched it before they released it. Does the director of this movie actually have conversations like this? I think the real problem with this movie is that it tries to hard to be politically correct, and that the Author, the Director, the Producer, the Editor, or someone feels that you can't portray the glorious careers of men who don't fit into the political correctness mold of the modern day. This is a serious disservice to historical fact.
on July 7, 2004
I like to study history, and the civil war is one of my favorite points in American History. Mainly because it was so controversial, the reasons, the bad guys, the death toll, etc..... It was one of the bloodiest battles in our history, not because both sides were american, but because of the percentage of dead per battle, sometimes reaching 30%.
I do believe that the South got a raw deal for a long time. They weren't blameless, but they also weren't the evil group of racists that were potrayed. Plus this delves into the fact that the war wasn't about slavery until the later stages, something the North didn't even want. But that is all up for debate in another forum.
This movie is well filmed, the characters feel more three dimensional and close to their real life counterparts, and the recreation of some of the battles are done in an almost loving fashion done by those who spend their pasttime recreating major events. It shows two major early battles where the confederacy won stunning victories causing heavy losses for the Union. The battle of Fredericksburg cost over 17,000 troops on the side of the Union.
The main complaint from people who like this movie was that it left a lot out, there were a lot of smaller battles that where, but it would have added another 2 hours easily to the already 4 hour movie. Maybe we can hope for a special edition some day.
This movie is very pro southern, so if your views tend to favor the union, this is probably not for you. If you don't love history or recreations of battles, especially ones using Napoleonic Tactics and weapons, it probably also is not for you. It is like marzipan, not a lot of people like it, but those that do, love it.
on December 8, 2003
I finally had the opportunity to watch _Gods and Generals_ last night. I watched it, my wife went to bed after 2 hours of the 4 hours, partly because she needed to get up to go to work this morning, but mostly because i think she gets tired of me cheering for Johnny Reb. I am an unashamed Southern sympathizer even though i was raised in southern California, it may very well be genetic however as my mom's people come from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the one time i met my grandfather it was pretty obvious he was Southern. I watched the movie, absorbed by the characters, heart raced by the battle scenes, in tears at the horror and destruction of war. I yelled at the lines of foolish men throwing their lives into a pit as the walked into the hail of cannonfire and minibullets (come to think of it my wife might of disliked that part to), laughed as 1 of the 3 main characters hailed from Maine (my wife's adopted state), a college professor of history and philosophy, but warmed up to him as he quoted Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon at length just before a battle. So in general i acted like a crazy football fan at the finals, cheering the Gray and booing the Blue.
But as i reflect upon the movie, it is the Christianity of the Generals that comes through most strongly, and here i am as little impartial as i am to the participants. I share in the conservative faith of Jackson, i think Robert Dabney is one of the best theologians America has ever raised up. I was truely amazed that a movie would be done in modern secular anti-theistic America where the lead characters really pray, really believe, really love the Lord, (Wow, how did that get past the censors?) or be thought to make any money? Their faith is not dumbed down, the hard parts are presented as in where Jackson sits and cries for the death of a little girl by scarlet fever as his men remark-but he didnt cry for all the men we've lost. The minority view of the war is presented straight forward at several places: the Civil War as the Second American Revolution, the role of the Irish, slavery as a side issue not the important one, the contradictory role of the races in Jackson's praying with his black cook, or the protection of a white family's house by their brave women slave and her children and her talk to northerners about wanting to be free, for example. I had even hoped that somewhere on the extra disk would be several alternative endings where the South won.
And this is where my thinking is pushed by this most extraordinary movie, alternatives. They all revolve around the Faith and slavery, Biblical Christianity and ethnic relationships where a history of such epic proportions and such real horror intertwine with fundamental principles and good sound religious belief. This is the great value of the movie being as true as it possibly can to the historical conditions of the Civil War, for it was a religious as well as an economic, (industrial v. agarian), political (right to sucession), or what-have-you war. This is often minimized in our era of weak believism, mild feelings about religious things, a general feelings that religion isn't a great motivator, money and politics are. Well, secular America meet your great great grandparents, see their religious beliefs mirrored in the young suicide bombers in Israel, or the car bombers in Iraq. Religious beliefs are worth dying and even killing for, today as they where in 1861-4.
But it is in the mixture of truth and error that the movie hints at in the relationship of the races that is to me the takehome message that i need to dwell on, for those issues are not finished in today's America and the war was finished so long ago. Jackson (not in the movie but in real life) knelt with slaves in church, praying to the same Lord. Lee owned slaves, Dabney defended slavery in a book 20 years after the war. The South did fight to preserve the 'peculiar institution', slavery, abolitionists where Christians as well, although often Unitarians not Presbyterians. And this is where the present hits 1861 headon, and the power and the bright coloration of history so as to make it alive and real in the movie has great value. This is the extraordinary opportunity that the movie gives us, to revisit and re-evaluate our past, as if the issues are meaningful to us, important to us as they were to Jackson, or Lee, or whats-his-name you know the Maine guy. That is why i recommend even Yankees to watch the movie, to learn what moved our ancestors in a way that a book just can't do. So thanks all of you who contributed to this movie for an accurate picture of a piece of the War for Southern Rights.
on October 29, 2003
As I reviewed the so-called reviews I couldn't help but notice that all but 1 of the 'low-ratings' stemmed from those persons located outside of the Confederate States of America. As many know, to the victors belong the spoils (i.e. - Winners write history the way THEY wnat to) that is why former Confederates used the Pen instead of the Sword to retaliate against the Yankee Propaganda machine. Notice the Southern Historical Society Papers (52 Vols); Confederate Military History (12 Vols); The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by President Jefferson Davis (2 Vols); The Coming of the Glory and Facts the Historians Leave Out by John S. Tilley (ca. 1940s). I could continue about the scores of supressed books out of print today like: United States "History" as the Yankee Takes and Makes It (pub. 1900); Things the South Didn't Fight For (pub 1917 by UDC). Thus we see from those who lived through it that the conflict was instigated by the United States when they Invaded another nation called the Confederate States of America. Over what? Taxes, Revenue, and Land Posession. Only after numerous defeats and possible European Recognition of the CSA did Lincoln throw out the Race Card (Emancipation Proclamation) which freed no slaves at all. Thus it is the beautiful thing about Gods and Generals, we are allowed to re-live 1861-1863 through the eyes of Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and too keep people happy Through Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin's eyes. Jackson and Lee were fierecly devoted Christian men (not fanatics) and led their men into battle expecting the Lord's Will to be accomplished. Even the tragic wounding of Gen Jackson is portrayed accurately if compared with Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire's attestment of the situation as seen in the Southern Historical Society Papers. Without Yankee Propaganda and 21st Century Commentary the movie Gods and Generals presents one of those rare opportunities to see things as they really are. As a Pastor, SCV commander, and descendant of brave Confederate soldiers I HIGHLY recommend this movie. For more info about saving our heritage see: [...] or call 1-800-My-DIXIE.
on September 29, 2003
If this movie has a fault it is that it lacks many of the usual Hollywood romanticisms. It is neither about the Civil War in its entirety (not even getting to the pivotal 1862 battle of Antietam, let alone the far better known Gettysburg), nor is about Southern politics - spending little time exploring the politics of the antebellum South. Although Duvall, as Robert E. Lee (Duvall is a distant relative of General Lee) figures into the story (as he surely must), Lee is not really even the central character in this story.
What "Gods and Generals" is about is Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and the first three major battles in Virginia. This was an era when the Union army was still poorly commanded and making major, almost comical (if they hadn't been so costly in human life) errors on the battle field - errors they eventually corrected. Although I am not usually a Ted Turner fan, my hat is off to him for helping to bank-roll the telling of this story.
This movie is (probably) less for the casual movie-goer, and much more for the student of 19th century American history. Expect to be entertained, as "Gods and Generals" is a good movie with the usual cast of thousands in the battle scenes and street scenes from Fredericksburg (actually shot in the real village of Harpers Ferry, which has a lively Civil War history in its own right), but also expect to be educated. As a prelude to viewing the movie "Gettysburg," this movie is essential, as one can then get the feeling of how devastating the untimely loss of General Jackson was to General Lee.