Gods & Generals

"Weak"

Gods & Generals Review


If the 3 hour and 49 minute Civil War epic "Gods and Generals" is any indication, the Union and the Confederate armies must have talked each other to death.

The movie has, at most, five scattered minutes of story addressing the political issues that split the nation in 1861. It has maybe 30 minutes of battle scenes and another 15 focused exclusively on Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's pneumonia.

The balance of the picture is spent on florid speeches, polemic pontifications and protracted prayers, extensively detailed attack plans, scene after scene exploring the marriages of its military icons, and passing mentions of slavery (which apparently no one in this Southern army actually favored), while largely ignoring the other more direct causes of the war.

Everyone is noble, honorable and full of fire. Everyone is spirited, passionate and poetic about everything that comes out of their mouths, especially their reluctance to fight their fellow countrymen. And apparently every passing minute of the conflict had a tremendous sense of occasion.

This meticulous account of the Civil War -- or rather, an incomplete fraction of the war, since the film tells the story only up to the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 -- may be fascinating stuff to period aficionados like producer Ted Turner and the thousands of enthusiastic Blue- and Grey-uniformed re-enactors hired to help create the picture's battle scenes. But speaking as a history buff of more general interest, this overly emotional yet textbook-bland marathon is a downright bore.

The film follows two regiments -- Jackson's from the South and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's from the North -- through very specific particulars of specific battles (Manassas and Fredericksburg) on specific days during their inevitable march toward each other in Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain is played by Jeff Daniels, who simply doesn't have the dramatic weight to carry his half of the movie. Paired with Mira Sorvino as his wife, their scenes together play like a bad audition, both of them struggling to wrap their mouths around out-sized period dialogue that just doesn't suit them.

But stage actor Steven Lang (he's been in "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Tombstone" on the big screen) gives a powerhouse performance as Jackson -- and it's he alone that counteracts the sleeping-pill character of this seemingly endless film.

Providing his character so much depth, dimension and vivid personality that he seems like a 3-D character in a 2-D world, Lang looks rugged and roughshod but radiates honor and prudence as he wraps himself to great effect in both Jackson's robust fearlessness and his stanch, fundamental religious faith.

But, oh the three-page speeches he has to give again and again and again! Just saying a prayer with his Negro cook (Frankie Faison) burns four or five minutes of screen time, so you can just imagine how long-winded he gets when preparing to meet the Yankees on the film's three battlefields.

Writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell (who adapted this film as a prequel to his 1993 "Gettysburg," both from a historical novel by Jeffrey M. Shaara) maintains minute accuracy to the utmost, going into great detail about how, for instance, hesitant Gen. Ambrose Burnside (Alex Hyde-White) blew his chance to take Fredericksburg while it was virtually undefended.

But Maxwell's filmmaking is so elementary -- the same camera angles are used over and over as battalion after battalion charge in the same direction up the same hill -- that these war scenes are almost as dry metaphorically as they are literally. Most soldiers die instantaneously in "Gods and Generals," and do so without spilling a drop of blood. This is likely because a six-hour version of the film (good God!) is slated to become a miniseries on TNT, so everything had to be kept PG-13. The horrors of war do still come across more than adequately, even if the battles themselves do not.

I did learn several interesting facts from this picture, such as at that time loyalty to one's state was considered above loyalty to the Union -- which is why Gen. Robert E. Lee (played by Robert Duvall) fought for Virginia instead accepting President Lincoln's offer to lead the Union Army. From his point of view, he was defending his homeland against invasion.

But the story has no narrative arc and nothing driving it other than a faithful recreation of Civil War minutiae. The movie is plagued by other problems too, not the least of which are shoddy computer-generated shots meant to recreate period cities and the fact that Jeff Daniels' Gen. Chamberlain -- ostensibly a main character -- completely disappears in the 15 minutes before the credits roll.

It's sad to say -- but I think safe to say -- that since Maxwell employed thousands of re-enactors on "Gods and Generals," 90 percent of people who wouldn't be bored silly by it are probably in it. The question is, will they now pay to see it?



Facts and Figures

Box Office Worldwide: $12.9M

Budget: $56M

Production compaines: Antietam Filmworks, Turner Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as Sgt. Buster Kilrain, as Sgt. Thomas Chamberlain, as Capt. Alexander 'Sandie' Pendleton, as Col. Adelbert Ames, Brian Mallon as Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, as Maj. Walter Taylor, as Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, as Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill, as Maj. Gen. George Pickett, Joseph Fuqua as Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

It's been 15 years since Vin Diesel walked away from his XXX role, killing off...

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Advertisement
Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.