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

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in...

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

With the more dumbed-down title Fast & Furious 8 outside of North America, this overcrowded...

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the...

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel is adapted into a remarkably intelligent, gently involving film anchored...

The Boss Baby Movie Review

The Boss Baby Movie Review

There isn't a lot of subtlety in this madcap animated comedy, which is more aimed...

Advertisement
City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

After the latest incarnation of Dredd, director Pete Travis shifts gears drastically for this complex...

Going in Style Movie Review

Going in Style Movie Review

This is only technically a remake of the iconic 1979 film starring movie icons George...

Graduation Movie Review

Graduation Movie Review

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) recounts another staggeringly detailed...

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the...

Free Fire Movie Review

Free Fire Movie Review

Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds 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.