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.