In the summer of 1863, General Robert E. Lee leads the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with the goal of marching through to Washington, D.C. The Union Army of the Potomac, under the command of General George G. Meade, forms a defensive position to confront the rebel forces in what will prove to be the decisive battle of the American Civil War.
I first watched this movie in a movie theater shortly after it came out. It only had a limited release, so most people saw it as a cable release movie. From the opening title crawl and showing the lead actors in their roles juxtaposed with pictures of the actual historical figures, it had me hook.
It is based on the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It is one of the first books on the Civil War I read, based on a recommendation by a coworker. I have read dozens and dozens of books on the topic since then, and it is still one of my favorites. Considering that it is a fairly short book, the fact that the movie is over four hours long tells you that a lot more research was done.
I can’t speak to how the actors did with the various southern accents, but I thought it was a strong cast, right down to the lesser roles. I have heard they utilized Civil War re-enactors in the filming, a good source of extras who were familiar with the time period and brought their own period clothing!
Of course it didn’t hurt my feelings that one of the leads: Jeff Daniels, plays Joshua Chamberlain, who hails from my home state of Maine and who lived a remarkable life: college professor, Volunteer army lieutenant who rose to become a general and Medal of Honor recipient, Governor of Maine - and more. Apparently, thanks to this movie, the most popular spot for tourists at the Gettysburg National Battlefield is where the 20th Maine and Chamberlain fought. As a side note, another offshoot of the story behind Chamberlain and the 20th Maine’s exploits is the song Dixieland by Steve Earle. Whenever I hear the song I want to watch the movie, and vice versa.
Anyway, of course it is a war movie, and I do not normally like war flicks, but this one is much more than that. You can pretend it is a mini-series and watch it in two or three sittings if that makes it easier. Some people say it lets the southerners off the hook politically, but there is a speech about race relations by Chamberlain that addresses the race issue, I believe, and provides balance.
Well, I could go on and on, but I will spare you. Besides, there is this song I have a hankering to listen to right now.
TriStar Television, Esparza / Katz Productions, New Line Cinema, Turner Pictures (I) by Ron Maxwell, Michael Shaara.
Stars: Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Stephen Lang.
Genres: Drama, History, War
Keywords: civil war independence troops army battle union soldier confederate soldier american civil war battle of gettysburg early america
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