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Gods And Generals (PG-13)
Ted Turner Pictures
Official Site
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
Producers: Moctesuma Esparza, Nick Grillo, Robert Katz IV, Ronald F. Maxwell, Mace Neufeld, Robert Rehme, Ronald G. Smith, Ted Turner, Robert J. Wussler
Written by: Ronald F. Maxwell; from the book by Jeff Shaara
Cast: Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, C. Thomas Howell, Kevin Conway, Patrick Gorman, Brian Mallon, Matt Lindquist, Bo Brinkman, Royce D. Applegate, Cooper Huckabee, Frankie Faison, Mira Sorvino, Kali Rocha, Jeremy London

Rating: out of 5

Gods And Generals is one of those films you would watch under one of two conditions: Either you’re a Civil War buff, or you’re being coerced—e.g., watching it in an American History class because you have absolutely no other choice. Gods And Generals is a long movie—so long, in fact, that it has an intermission. With a run time of just under three and a half hours, you should definitely have a good reason for letting your ass go numb while you relive the horrors and intricacies of the first two years of the Civil War.

The second film in a trilogy, Gods And Generals was adapted for the screen from Jeff Shaara’s book of the same name and is the prequel to the 1993 film Gettysburg (based on the book The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, Jeff’s father). The story starts off rather slowly at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, with men from both the Union and the Confederacy deciding that this war is, in fact, worth fighting. General Robert E. Lee (Duvall) agrees to lead the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to battle. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Daniels), a teacher of philosophy, leaves his job to become a Lieutenant Colonel for the Union because he believes in emancipation. While the film explores the lives of both the generals and infantrymen who fought in the Civil War—and the women in their lives—Gods And Generals is mostly concerned with the journey of Confederate soldier General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (Lang). He fearlessly leads his men in a war he firmly believes is God’s will, even though it ends up costing him his life. Lang’s portrayal of Jackson is right on target; he easily conveys the sense of righteousness that Jackson was said to have felt about his role as a general and about the necessity of fighting in order to preserve the Confederacy.

The most impressive aspect of this film is not in the acting—it’s hard to believe that anyone, ever, sounded as stuffy and unnatural as the nineteenth-century Americans portrayed here—but in the battle scenes. Instead of using extras, 7,500 “reenactors” clad in appropriate attire painstakingly reenact the battles fought during the Civil War for the sake of authenticity, adding some spice to an otherwise uninteresting story line. The film would have been about an hour shorter without all the slo-mo fighting scenes, but what’s a war movie without hell, death, and destruction? This one, interestingly enough, isn’t nearly as bloody as it supposedly was in real life, though that small fact doesn’t detract from the depiction of the horrendous nature of war. If anything, seeing soldiers use their comrades’ lifeless bodies as protection from the hail of bullets whizzing past their heads is more disturbing than any resulting gore.

There are a few touching moments in this film—two soldiers silently meeting to share their coffee and tobacco and then going their separate ways; the infantries looking up into the night sky after a particularly pernicious battle and seeing a phenomenon similar to the aurora borealis; General Lee befriending a young girl whose presence, presumably, fills a void that exists because he has not yet met his own newborn daughter.

But the overwhelming feeling I got while watching this movie is that it is long, dull, and not entirely accurate. The slavery issue is mostly skirted, though there are conversations about it that suggest that everyone, including the Confederates, favors emancipation—a lovely idea in itself, but one that, unfortunately, just isn’t historically true. There are plenty of Christian God references, which must have been a sign of the times. If you’re stuck on a battlefield, marching head-on into enemy fire, praying may not be such a bad idea.

—Sarah Andrews


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