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Gods and Generals, an Honest Review
February 24, 2003 — 10:10 pm

This is my first attempt at reviewing a movie. Admittedly, this is pretty hard for me to do as I don’t think of myself as anything close to a prolific writer and I really am a poor critic of anything. My favorite words are, “it was good”, “it was pretty good”, “it was excellent”, etc…

So, here it goes:

Gods and Generals covers the Civil war from the secession of Virginia to the battle of the Wilderness in May of 1863. Overall, I believe it was a ‘good’ movie at least from a historical standpoint. It did, however, have a number of flaws.

From a technical standpoint, the movie made good use of computer graphics but failed miserably when applying the soundtrack. To put it simply, the director treats the audience like little children throughout the movie invoking dramatic music whenever he wishes to make a point. Every speech made is directed not at any person in particular but to some invisible audience. While overly dramatic music attempts to pull at your emotions, the camera pans between the orator and the people within his sphere of influence dreamingly staring off into space.

Let me say this right off. I think Robert Duvall is one of the most talented actors in Hollywood today. However, I believe Ron Maxwell made a mistake casting him as Robert E. Lee. I am surprised to say this myself as his casting was the cause of much anticipation on my part to see the movie. Although the part of Robert E. Lee is ancillary to the story at best, Duvall’s use of his own idiosyncrasies simply did not match the character of the Southern General. Perhaps if he were allowed to have a greater part in the movie it would have been different but, as it stands, Duvall was unable to bring to life the essence of Robert E. Lee.

Another disappointment was the character of General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson played by Stephen Lang. Although Lang did an excellent job of portraying General Pickett in Gettysburg, he was utterly unconvincing as Jackson. I’m not sure if the problem lay in the directing or the acting but, Lang was much too over dramatic while portraying an historically undramatic man. Even if you know little or nothing about Jackson, you would probably have to agree that Lang hams it up a bit much in this film

All that being said, I did enjoy the action part of the movie. The battle of Fredricksburg was particularly compelling. At one point in the battle it showed the Irish Brigade of the Northern Army squaring off against an Irish Regiment of the Confederate Army. This scene was done rather well and was able to evoke emotion without the crutch of dramatic music.

Another scene I enjoyed (although others said it was cheesy, and I can certainly see their point) was that of Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels, standing over the town of Fredricksburg before the impending attack. He related to his men the story of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, literally ending the Roman Republic (and the Roman Civil War) thereby turning it into an the now famous Roman Empire. It got a bit cheesy when he shouted over the din of battle, to General Robert E. Lee himself it seems, “Hail Caesar! We who are about to die, salute you!”.

One of the most interesting stories, to me anyway, of the Civil War was that of General Jackson’s death. While lying on his deathbed, suffering from acute pneumonia, he shouts out in delirium:

“Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…”

Leaving the sentence unfinished, a smile of ineffable
sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an
expression, as if of relief,

“Let us cross over the river, and rest under the
shade of the trees.”

Although they managed to get the quote wrong in the movie, Lang was able to pull it off. And so, in death, he finally managed to portray Jackson as something close to human.

Perhaps that was the main problem of the film. It simply attempted to treat all the characters as Gods, as the title suggests, instead of the humans they were. Over all, I give the movie 5 1/2 stars with a rating of ‘good’. It saddens me a little. I know how hard it is to get Hollywood to agree to make a 4 hour movie. With every mediocre one that comes out, it is going to be that much harder to get the next one made.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)

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