The more you know about the American Civil War, the more you'll appreciate Gods and Generals
and the painstaking attention to detail that Gettysburg
writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell has invested in this academically respectable 220-minute historical pageant. In adapting Jeffrey Shaara's 1996 novel (encompassing the events of 1861-63, specifically the Virginian battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville), Maxwell sacrifices depth for scope while focusing on the devoutly religious "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang), whose Confederate campaigns endear him to Gen. Robert E Lee (Robert Duvall, giving the film's most subtle performance). Battles are impeccably recreated using 7,500 Civil War re-enactors and sanitised violence, their authenticity compromised by tasteful discretion and endless scenes of grandiloquent dialogue. Still, as the first part of a trilogy
that ends with The Last Full Measure
, this is a superbly crafted, instantly essential film for Civil War study. For all its misguided priorities, Gods and Generals
is a noble effort, honouring faith and patriotism with the kind of reverence that has all but vanished from American film but provides abundant proof that historical accuracy is no guarantee of great storytelling. --Jeff Shannon
A sweeping epic charting the early years of the Civil War and how campaigns unfolded from Manassas to the Battle of Fredericksburg, this prequel to the film Gettysburg explores the motivations of the combatants and examines the lives of those who waited at home.