GODS AND GENERALS
Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
Better than Average
Mature Teen to Adult
3 hr. 30 min.
Recreating events from the Civil War might customarily induce filmmakers to create the archetypal conflict of good versus evil, but director Ron Maxwell seems to have chosen a potentially more dramatic conflict for the feature film “Gods and Generals” : good versus good. What happens when leaders on both sides of a war believe in a good, righteous God and are willing to fight to the death for their convictions? This three and-a-half hour long account of significant American History provides us with a unique view into the minds of the leaders at the forefront of this war.
Based on Jeff Shaara’s book “Gods and Generals”, director Ron Maxwell has crafted a prequel to his 1993 Civil War film Gettysburg. This second film of a potential trilogy, “Gods and Generals” takes as its protagonist one whom media mogul Ted Turner says has never been portrayed on the big screen—the leader of the Confederates, Stonewall Jackson (Stephen Lang). Risking incredible political incorrectness, this story likens Christians to a man whose ideas and beliefs are universally recognized as heinous. (The final film of the trilogy is said to be The Last Full Measure, also based on a book by Shaara.)
From the beginning of the film we are taken into the private life of Stonewall Jackson. We see a loving relationship with his wife and even a very kind friendship with his African American servants. (One of his servants, Martha, is played by Donzaleigh Abernathy, daughter of Civil Rights leader Ralph Abernathy.) Though Jackson is shown as a fierce-hearted fighter who, in battle, cries, “Kill them, kill them all!,” he’s also shown as a soft-hearted gentleman when a little girl captures his heart and brings out a more fun-loving side of him.
The film is structured around three main battles during the Civil War: the first battle of Manassas (or Bull Run), the battle of Fredericksburg, and the battle of Chancellorsville. Throughout it all, we constantly see the faith these men have as they hurl themselves headlong into bloody battles. Jackson lifts his voice and prays aloud to God on several occasions, believing God is in control and trusting in Him. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) is also a devoted believer in God and is moved by his convictions to end the incivility he observes happening in the South.
Another component of this story is, of course, General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall), who feels his greatest allegiance is to his home, to his family, and ultimately, to God. Lee, like the other men, trusts ultimately in God. The phrase that is repeated most throughout this story is, “God’s will be done.” Both Jackson and Lee feel very strong about what they are fighting for, but also give way to the fact that ultimately, God is going to accomplish His purposes through everything that happens.
As with any war movie, scenes of fighting, shooting and people dying are going to be presented. However, “Gods and Generals” is clearly not as gratuitous as more recent films such as “Saving Private Ryan”. The PG-13 rating is due directly to violence. Furthermore, there is no foul language or sexual content. Everything is done very decently and modestly.
The accuracy of the film is one of the most impressive aspects regarding production value. First of all, instead of movie “extras”, over 7500 Civil War re-enactors were hired. These men and women already have costumes and weaponry from this era and know about different protocol regarding the use of a bayonet. Details printed on boxes were also accurate, and, as Jeff Daniels said in the interview regarding creating the film, “No one said on set, ‘No one will notice.’”
Overall, the film is an in-depth portrayal of the events, but more importantly it is a new look into the lives of the men who led this war. Overlooking or leaving out significant factors, such as the faith the men who built our country had, seems a highly traveled road. But, thanks to the boldness of writer Jeff Shaara, director Ron Maxwell, and producer Ted Turner, we are able to watch an educational, thought-provoking examination of one of the defining moments of America.Year of Release—2003