Movie Review

GODS AND GENERALS

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teen to Adult
Genre:
Historical Drama
Length:
3 hr. 30 min.

Starring: Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, Mira Sorvino, Donzaleigh Abernathy, | Directed by: Ron Maxwell | Produced by: Ted Turner | Written by: Jeff Shaara | Distributor: Warner Brothers

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.

Gods and Generals, Copyright, Warner Bros.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 Gods and Generals, Copyright, Warner Bros. 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


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—“Gods and Generals” is one of the most profound epics I’ve ever seen. We learn to love and respect Stonewall Jackson as we follow his distinguished career borne out of devotion for the cause. As a Christian, even coming from a steadfast Yankee background, I found myself ardently admiring Jackson, Lee, and other confederates… primarily for their faith in God. If you want a glimpse into what life was like during the Civil War era—from the ideas of morality, faith, and honor to the politics, mindset, and challenges faced by each army—this is an ideal choice. Yes, it is too long and I did glance at my watch a couple times during lengthy battle scenes. But the wealth of the film’s deeper aspects, including the shame I felt for my own pale faith in comparison to those who have come before me, make Gods and Generals a journey which any American and every Christian should take, no matter with which side they sympathize.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
Charity Bishop, age 19
Positive—This movie was GREAT. As was stated in the review, a major theme in this movie was “God’s will be done.” The potrayal of historical figures was done accurately, and the acting was very impressive. I very much enjoyed the part where an exerpt from a book about the Roman cival war was narrarated.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Britni, age 12
Positive—I believe our nation would be well served for all Americans to view this film, especially high school and college age students. This film is ten times better than any history lesson any of us have ever had, and much more realistic and moving. This film transports us back in time when valor, honor, integrity, faith, and devotion meant something important in our country. Tragically, our modern society has all but lost the true meaning of those ideals. For all the advancements we’ve made in science, medicine, engineering, and communications since the Civil War, we have gone backward as a culture. This film may not make you wish you were living during that time of unrest, but you will have a much better appreciation for those who endured and left a lasting legacy for us to ponder and admire today.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
—George Morgan, age 53
Positive—“Gods and Generals” reminds us, vividly, of the sacrifice of many to obtain and maintain liberty. Though, I am presently wondering if the reviewer saw the movie (Martha was NOT Jackson’s servant) I otherwise agree with his comments, and qualifications. Pulling back the veneer of our current culture that would have us believe issues of faith, patriotism, fidelity, race, bigotry, etc. can be condensed into sound bites, and broad generaliztions; this film reveals the complexity of the human condition, and the limitations of even good men to know and do right. I would hope every American citizen over the age of 15 see this film. (And then weep—at the courage, the valour and the devastation it represents.) May God have mercy on the United States of America.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Jeannie Ryan
Positive—Although it was lengthy I believe “Gods and Generals” portrayed an accurate historical account of how and why the civil war was fought, and the terrible carnage both sides had to endure. It also reflected what the families of these brave soldiers went though, and how they too were affected by the war, including the important role mothers, wives and sisters played in the war. From a Christian perspective, I believe, despite the war theme, this movie communicated more of a Christian witness than most PG-13 movies will ever portray. Countless times throughtout the movie the characters of General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are seen praying, giving glory to God, asking for God’s strength and wisdom, stating things will be done in God’s time, etc. Again, despite the war theme, it is clearly evident both men are strong, moral Christians who “should not grow to fond of war. War is a terrible thing,” according to Robert E. Lee. Because of the battlefield scenes and killings, which are well-spaced in the movie, young children (under age 12) might find “Gods and Generals”, although consistently historically accurate and realistic, a bit too intense.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
—Dave Caloiaro, age 44
Positive—Being somewhat of a Civil War enthusiast, I naturally wanted to see this movie. This movie is an excellent way to kill four hours. There is a strong spiritual theme throughout the whole of the movie. The devotion of Christians in the film is inspiring and is not overlooked by very key characters. Two thumbs up!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
—Tim Hammonds, age 18
Positive—As a Christian, and an armchair historian—I highly recommend “God’s and Generals.” Faith and actions according to God’s will was at the core of our country’s beliefs during the Civil War. “God’s and Generals” not only honored belief in God, but showed it as the characters’ source of strength. Battle scenes are realistic but not overdramatized. To see Christian values shown throughout a major motion picture so well is a praise item! Stonewall Jackson’s wife is so happy to let him know that he will be with Jesus soon—with an honest, true happiness. May we all feel that way!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Cindy, age 43
Positive—This movie was, in my opinion, very good. It did tend to get a bit boring in some places (the conversations tended to drag) but it was very historically accurate. I thought it portrayed the Christian faith of the main characters well, there was no mockery of God or Christians. I especially appreciate the scene after one of the battles when one of Stonewall Jackson’s aides comments on his courage in battle. Jackson’s reply was something along the lines that he had nothing to fear from man because his days were in God’s hands. This movie is a bit violent (I usually skip most of the battle scenes) and the language could have been omitted. God’s and Generals will most likely make you cry, but I think that anyone with an interest in the Civil War will enjoy viewing it.
My Ratings: [Good! / 3]
—Lisa, age 18