Gods and Generals
If you rarely invest in the super sized popcorn, you might want to reconsider. After sitting through this film's nearly four-hour runtime, you'll likely have long finished your bag and your neighbor's too.
Gods and Generals is an epic (in this case that means long) film from Ronald Maxwell, who also directed the 1993 sequel (and even longer movie), Gettysburg. Focusing on historical events involving several key battles in the early months of the Civil War, it follows the movement of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephan Lang) and his heroic brigade.
Jackson, a hardnosed and dutiful instructor at a military school, is called to serve under the newly appointed Confederate leader, General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall). Leaving his young wife (Kali Roche), the bearded officer begins training his assortment of enlistees to defend Virginia's border from Yankee soldiers. Under orders from President Abraham Lincoln, the Northerners are planning a march on the Southern States to quell the secession uprising.
On the other side of the war lines, Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) is a professor at Maine's Bowdoin College. While attempting to broaden the minds of young men, his view of philosophy is questioned by a student who sees a discrepancy between professed ideals and the plight of the slave. Feeling a duty to fight for truth as he sees it, Chamberlain is offered a position as a Lt. Colonel in the Union Army. Kissing his wife (Mira Sorvino) and children good-bye, he too heads for the heated battlegrounds.
As cannons boom across the open fields and bullets scream through the choking smoke, boys, brothers and former countrymen square up on the front lines. Lifting their weapons to their shoulders, they open fire on one another in a war where both sides invoke the blessings of heaven.
While the battle sequences are sustained and often repetitive, the true horror of the gruesome activity is underplayed, giving only occasional glimpses of bloody, mutilated bodies and devastated homes. But war violence isn't all the filmmakers left out. Other than a black housemaid born into slavery and an army cook who longs for the freedom of his family, the subject of slavery is usually skirted. Instead the Virginians fight to protect their newly established homeland from invasion.
The script often resorts to long monologues rather than shared conversations. These speeches drag out the already slow pace of the film and leave little opportunity for interaction between characters.
For those captivated by the civil war period, this reenactment, enhanced by a huge number of volunteer cast members, brings to life a dark period in American history when the scourge of slavery led to war between countrymen. Whether fighting under the Confederate or Union flag, these brave soldiers called upon God to preserve their lives and win their cause in a bloody conflict piloted by human generals.