A review of “Gods and Generals” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for bloody battle sequences

Run Time: 3 hours, 45 minutes (!!!)

 

 

This American Civil War prequel to 1993’s venerable “Gettysburg” is a plodding, made-for-TV-ish glimpse into the uptight sensibilities and stiff upper lips of the South’s classic conflict, and the seedlings of war against those damn Yankees to the North.

Maximum schmaltz underscores every screen moment. From 1861 through to 1863, just prior to the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, fine military leaders and native Virginian citizens alike pledge allegiance to the Confederate Army in an effort to salvage national pride.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee (a flat Robert Duvall) joins forces with the devoutly religious and courageous General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Stephen Lang) to lead the South to unbridled glory.

Although their vision of freedom and unity is a noble one (and the battles take place at startlingly picturesque sites such as Henry House Hill and Little Round Top), this Valentine to Civil War brigades of yore doesn’t come close to illustrating the genuine passion and suffering behind the scenes.  More lives were lost in the U.S. Civil War (aka the War of Secession and the War of Rebellion) than any other conflict in our nation’s history, yet the action is so mired in cliché that it feels more like an incomplete high-school rendering than an epic war piece.

Performances are swathed in noble purity and sing-song cadences.  Duvall and Jeff Daniels (as Union Army Colonel Joshua Chamberlain) are cardboard cutout heroes, offering nothing beyond the predictable two-dimensional scripting.  The wives don’t fare much better, practically swooning with feminine determination and stand-by-your-man devotion.  Only Lang brings some sentiment to the table, brimming with a temperate humanity that reveals the man being beneath the hero.

At intermission (a break that puts the total experience at over a staggering four hours), my husband was accosted in the men’s room by eager Civil War buffs who wanted to analyze (in detail) the film’s historical accuracies. That said, I suspect that “Gods and Generals” is for Civil War enthusiasts only.