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This review is from: Gods and Generals (DVD)
The era of the Civil War, a time of great conflict in our nation, has been of great interest to many who study the history of the United States. The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict on American soil for many years and the last great war to be fought in our own country. As southern states quickly succeeded from the Union, young men of the north were asked to help fight the rebels who wanted to rip this great nation apart. The North fought for preservation of the Union while the South fought for state rights and the preservation of slavery. The war was hard on everybody as brother fought against brother, sons against their fathers, families against families. No war had ever divided a nation so greatly as this one. The film Gettysburg, original planned for television viewing only until it was decided to be released into theaters, gave a glorious view into possibly the greatest and most well known battle of the Civil War. Though the film was not a box office success, it was glorified for its artistic merit. Can the prequel Gods and Generals do the same or will the lengthy film be killed in action?
The story follows the early days of the Civil War all the way up to right before the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Much of the focus of the film follows T.J. Jackson, who is commander of the Virginia division for the Confederate army, but the film also follows around General Robert E. Lee, who is in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who is an officer in charge of the 20th Main division of the Union. Several battle are shown within the course of the film including the Battle of 1st Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The story for Gods and Generals is well done but there is some disappointment. There was a feeling that the film spent too much time involved in the small stories and speeches then on the battles that actually occurred within the early days of the Civil War. The fact that the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, was not included in the film was of huge disappointment. There was also too much confusion trying to keep track of so many personal stories that it became too much within the course of the four hour film.
It is hard to focus on just one performance with a film such as Gods and Generals but maybe it is best to focus more on the lead characters then anything else. Possibly the best role within the film was performed by Stephen Lang, who portrayed Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Lang gave a stirring performance as "Old Blue Eyes" showing the great difference of Jackson's actions on and off the battlefield. Jackson's death at the end of the film should bring many historians to tears for being so dramatic. Another fabulous portrayal was of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain performed by Jeff Daniels, who was in the film Gettysburg as well. It was kind of disappointing that he is not seen at the end of the film to transition into the film Gettysburg but not a huge flaw. Robert Duvall takes over for Martin Sheen as Robert Edward Lee in the prequel to the famous film. Duvall has the look down as well as some famous lines from the Confederate general but Lee is not seen much within the film which is quite disappointing as the ads make it seem like he is the main focus. There are too many small performances to make huge note of but they are brilliantly performed by this great cast.
Overall, Gods and Generals is a good film on the Civil War but not a spectacular one. With success in many areas comes some failures. The time length was too much at a stunning four hours but the intermission was well placed. Some conflicts involving the Southern view of slavery and blacks in the army argues against historic records. The focus of the film also seemed to be too Southern biased as much focus was placed with the Union as much as the South. The biggest disappointment was exclusion of the Battle of Antietam, which Jackson was a part of. Though there were errors, the film wasn't all disappointing. Civil War buffs will be proud to hear lines like "He may have lost his left arm but I lost my right" from Lee or Jackson saying, "Let us rest under the shade of the trees" right before he dies. Another great surprise was the inclusion of songs like "Dixie" and "Bonnie Blue Flag" though the film could have included some Northern songs as well. The original song "Going Home", which can be heard in the opening of the film, was masterfully well done. Gods and Generals does what it was set out to do which was to give an epic portrayal of the early days of the Civil War. Though some may be disappointed with the toned down versions of famous battles, they will be happy to see that history can be brought to life in such splendor.