BluRay/DVD Reviews

GODS AND GENERALS

By • Jul 15th, 2003 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures
Ted Turner Pictures presents an Antietam Filmworks production
MPAA rating PG-13 / Running time: 223 minutes

In the press notes, writer/director/producer Ronald F. Maxwell is quoted thusly: “The last thing the world needs is a mindless, glossy entertainment on the Civil War.” And Marshall delivers. GODS AND GENERALS is a bloated, verbose bore. It was pure agony. At its merciful end, we are told there will be one more film completing the trilogy! Well, the exodus at Intermission might give the filmmakers pause regarding that bold, but harebrained, notion.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Stephen Lang) may indeed be, as James L. Robinson, the author of the definitive Jackson biography, says, “one’s of history’s most famous individuals,” but here he is a pompous, Bible-quoting bore. He cries out to God Almighty at every turn – even when he is alone staring at the stars! His idea of sexual foreplay involves reading the Old Testament to his wife. Not to be outdone, Union Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) quotes long passages from Julius Caesar – on the battlefield! Confederate General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) doesn’t get shunted aside in the blowhard stakes either. And then there is the singing of songs.

The terrible screenplay throws everything at these historically worthy guys reducing all three, as well as every supporting player, to pontificating bores. Only a highly skilled writer could capture the essence of all the points offered here: The politics, the slavery, the Irish Brigade, and the long-suffering, yet stoic wives of Jackson and Chamberlain. Anna (Kali Rocha) nearly faints in ecstasy every time she looks at Stonewall’s bushy beard, while Fanny Chamberlain (Mira Sorvino) represents the female caricature of the noble warrior’s wife. But the drama comes to a screeching halt when Maxwell insists on showing Jackson’s gentler side with a little girl (played by Lydia Jordan) whose subsequent death brings him to openly weep in front of his men on a battlefield littered with dead soldiers.

GODS AND GENERALS is Maxwell’s prequel to his acclaimed drama GETTYSBURG. He should have stopped while he was ahead. GETTYSBURG was Maxwell’s adaptation of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Killer Angels.” Shaara’s son Jeff continued the family business with his 1996 book “Gods and Generals.” However, the film is the sole fault of Maxwell. To take on such a grand project is admirable, but to write, produce, direct, and play a cameo? Only a megalomaniac would ignore the essentials of drama and bury The Civil War in obsessive minutiae, and letter reading, Bible-quoting weepy men with their women.

GODS AND GENERALS takes place in 1861 and culminates in July 1863 a few months before the Battle of Gettysburg. The major three battles of Manassas (Bull Run), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville were staged using 7,500 Civil War “re-enactors.” The press notes state that thousands of volunteers devoted their time to this endeavor. While this may have been a good way to save on costumes, weaponry and extras, it certainly did nothing to enhance the soggy screenplay. Costume authenticity, the proper placement of dead soldiers on the battlefield, and cameos by famous politicians are nothing to brag when the audience has to endure 223 minutes of tedious, plodding filmmaking.

I’m not a Civil War buff but have visited many battlefield sites as well as Antietam during a Christmas celebration commemorating the battle. Many members of Congress happily appeared in cameos in GODS AND GENERALS, among them a friend of mine, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California). Regardless of the overall dreadfulness of GODS AND GENERALS, Dana’s cameo appearance in the Battle of Fredericksburg was riveting!


Cast:
Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson: Stephen Lang
Gen. Robert E. Lee: Robert Duvall
Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain: Jeff Daniels
Sgt. Thomas Chamberlain: C. Thomas Howell
Sgt. Buster Kilrain: Kevin Conway
Anna Jackson: Kali Rocha
Fanny Chamberlain: Mira Sorvino

Credits:
Screenwriter-producer-director: Ronald F. Maxwell
Executive producers: Ted Turner, Robert Katz, Robert Rehme,
Moctesuma Esparza, Mace Neufeld
Director of photography: Kees Von Oostrum
Production designer: Mchael Z. Hanan
Editor: Corky Ehlers
Music: John Frizzell, Randy Edelman

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