Gods and Generals
(Spoiler: The Union wins the civil war.)
In an apparent nod to historical accuracy, "Gods and Generals" is nearly as long as the Civil War itself. Runtime on this sucker is nearly four hours. It has an intermission. It should also have an aid station with Gatorade and Powerbars. This would be fine if it were four hours long with cause, but you quickly get the sense that you're spending the entire time watching an army of hastily-costumed extras who were paid with nothing more than opossum sandwiches and bottles of Yoo Hoo. Watch carefully and see if you can spot the Confederate soldier in the second row who forgot to remove his NASCAR cap. This is all enhanced by oft-repeated wide shots of the battlefield enhanced by what looked like puffs of computer-generated smoke. I guess somewhere along the way the filmmakers blew the smoke budget.
The key figures in "Gods and Generals" are Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) on the Union side and Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) and Stonewall Jackson (Stephen Lang) on the Confederate side. Stonewall gets the most screen time as he draws upon his blind religious devotion to justify the slaughter of the enemy, and in some cases his own men. Played with a steely, creepy certainty by Lang, we're supposed to view the character as complex, but he's really just a dim-witted asshole who relies on his imaginary benefactor in the sky to justify his messianic quest to commit unspeakable crimes against humanity. Thank God the American armed forces don't have to deal with leaders like that anymore.
The dialog in "Gods and Generals" is conducted entirely in speeches, even when the subject is the weather or the need to go take a leak: "Urinate I shall, dear friend, with relieving, draining vigor and ending with a mighty shake of my trouser musket." This leaden profundity reinforces the theory that people in the 1860s went to war simply for want of something to do. Recreation apparently consisted of sitting stiffly in parlor rooms for hours and watching someone inexpertly play the piano. When called to serve, both Stonewall and Chamberlain react by turning to their wives and saying something along the lines of "Let us now sit, dear wife, and read verse," rather than "Verily, let us do it in the butt!"
Similarly sanitized is the face of slavery. According to "Gods and Generals," black people in the South were enslaved only by the kindness of their white benefactors. Stonewall Jackson is demonstratively kind to his black cook Jim (provided he keeps that goddamn food coming), which inspires Jim to wax eloquent about the noble quest of the Confederate army to defend his homeland.
The movie follows the first half of the Civil War, when the Confederates gained an edge over the Union army by relying on such key strategic advantages as "shooting from behind stuff" and "ducking." The movie also has some unbelievably blunt emotional moments: Irish Confederates shoot at Irish Union soldiers. Irish Union soldiers die. Irish music plays. Irish Confederates cry. In another sequence, Stonewall Jackson befriends little girl. Little girl gets fever. Little girl dies. Stonewall Jackson cries. Stonewall's men gather, point and say, "He cries for all of us." At this point, it's been nearly three hours with over an hour to go. Who cries for me?
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