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Glory for Glory,
This review is from: Glory (Special Edition) (DVD)
History fills our shelves and files, and yet so much fails to reach us. Sometimes it takes a realm of fiction to bring that history to the masses. Director Edward Zwick's *Glory* not only revealed a small piece of history to 1980's America, but turned out to be a top-notch story. Tri Star's Special Edition DVD of *Glory* brings this well-made drama to current audiences.
Story of *Glory*
*Glory* concerns the origin of the 54th Massachusetts: a black regiment formed early in the American Civil War. Based on history books and personal letters, Glory shows how the 54th was authorized initially to placate abolitionist groups. It follows Colonel Robert Gould Shaw as he turns this symbol into a genuine fighting force. Rampant racism in the Union Army obstructs the 54th, as they are denied the equipment, pay, and experience to prove itself. But our heroes fight back, beating the corrupt Army at its own game. Likewise, all of the main characters must overcome their differences and their own internal demons. *Glory* concludes with the bloody assault on Fort Wagner. A military failure, it succeeded on a political, social, and personal front.
Both this DVD edition and the special edition VHS contain "The True Story of *Glory* Continues", a documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman. The DVD set also contains an additional supplementary short on letters written by members of the 54th. These documentaries provide the actual history behind the 54th Massachusetts, since *Glory* itself takes plenty of artistic liberties. Zwick explains his two deleted scenes, arguing they were redundant. Tri Star also provides a theatrical trailer for three films featuring Denzel Washington. *Glory's* image quality is good, but like most films, it has that annoying tendency to drop down the sound of battle, even when no one is talking. I shoot guns and I know how loud they can be; I want to hear those longarms crack!
The Heart of It All
While Zwick's battle scenes mark the film, he is clearly more interested in the human drama set against the backdrop of history. He says as much in the commentary, and he shows it. Denzel Washington's character Trip is a cynic and a bully, who keeps himself and everybody down with racist language. He particularly targets Thomas, an educated freeman and family friend of Colonel Shaw, who has difficulty relating to his fellow soldiers. Sergeant Rawlins stands between these men; and he finds himself caught between the enlisted men and their officers (who don't always have the right solutions to the regiment's problems).
Colonel Shaw in particular demonstrates the problems of the combat leader, and both the director and Matthew Broderick bring depth to his character. Much of the time, his character is confident, talented, and brave. But behind his bravado lurks a traumatized combat veteran, driven to prepare his regiment for the horror of rifled muskets, repeating pistols, and high-explosive shells. After the battle of Antietam Creek, loud noises make Shaw jump, and he suffers from flashbacks of a fellow captain's grisly death. When his character is promoted from Captain to Colonel, the audience can see the doubt in Broderick's face. Consequently, Shaw brutalizes his men in basic training, employing a particularly harsh Sergeant Major to prepare them. Soon, even his officers grow to resent Shaw.
These details stand in contrast to films like director Randall Wallace's *We Were Soldiers* (2002), another major effort to bring dignity to a little-known piece of American history. Mel Gibson's characterization of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore is so unflappable as to be unbelievable. He comes across as having conquered his demons, fearing only that he is leading his men into a massacre. Moore's men are pluralistic and loyal, with no interpersonal conflict. While the 54th must fight tooth and nail simply to get shoes, the 3/7 Air Cav has everything already handed to it. Ultimately, Moore's victory gave way to America's failure in Vietnam, whereas the 54th's defeat paved the way for an American victory. So while these two films might have a similar idea, *Glory* presents a sense of depth and achievement absent from *We Were Soldiers*.
True, both groups of soldiers must grow. But Zwick takes his characters from nothing to something, whereas Wallace presents a troop with everything but their first blood. This is not to say that *Soldiers* doesn't please, but that it appeals on a completely different level than *Glory*.
*Glory*, then, exemplifies classic story telling. Much of this can be attributed to the editing and cinematography. Zwick and photography director Freddy Francis indulge in plenty of dramatic camera movements, using then-new cranes and cradles. But Zwick minimizes the depiction of blood, and quick-cuts violence. This actually lets him pack multiple incidents in his battle scenes, and his battles arouse a chaos other films fail to achieve. Francis continues this trend by maximizing the extras, props, and set seen in frame. The directors and editors also make the most of the actors' facial expressions and body language, helping Denzel Washington to walk away with that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Zwick and Francis even use the sun and the sky to set mood. When Shaw is optimistic in the first minute of the film, the sun is bright and clear; but when Shaw marches into his first battle at Antietam, the filmmakers show the sun obstructed by black smoke. Gray and fog cover the skies all the way until the last act, when the sun shines bright and clear again.
In the end, *Glory* satisfies. The film's payoff comes from its theme and its telling. The characters overcome different obstacles to achieve human dignity. *Glory* uses the American Civil War to demonstrate that if men are created equal, they die equal. And if humans are born alike and die alike, little excuse exists for the inequity in between.