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on 7 August 2005
The Civil War was the defining episode in American History - what it means to be American. This movie captures a real sense of the passions and horrors of the civil war. Dramatising such a story will always be hard - the Ken Burns documentary can never be beaten - but this film cycle is worth viewing. Its not big box office hollywood, but there again that's not the point. Some things people need to remember, and this is a chapter in Amercia's history that should not be forgotten.
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on 17 July 2004
Listen i am a black man who also happened to serve 6 years as an officer in the British Army (as a Tank Commander). Let me say that i think that this film is quite excellent. I am a big fan of that part of American History not least because it is not quite as black and white (excuse the pun) as some people would like to think.
I guess there's the military part of me that marvels at the excellence of the Southern Generals (particularly Stonewall Jackson on whom this film concentrates)and delights in the human dimension that often moved me to tears as i watched this masterpiece
Trust me if you liked Gettysburg by the same director and are into the American Civil War this is a film you must must watch
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Ironies abound: while Gettysburg was made for television but ended up with a theatrical release, yet despite a $60m budget, a huge cast and being shot in 2.35:1 widescreen, Gods and Generals looks like it would have been more at home on TV. In some ways it's almost the most expensive home movie ever shot, with Ted Turner paying for this account of the early years of the American Civil War out of his own pocket. For the first hour it's almost as if the Union never existed, the film shown entirely from the Southern side, and with a very partisan view at that (all down to Yankee aggression, with Fort Sumpter conveniently dismissed in a single line). Too often lengthy quotations take the place of dialogue and even the better actors in the cast often seem ill at ease while the surprisingly weak daylight photography and poor CGi matte painting in early scenes giving it an air of storybook unreality. Indeed, Ronald Maxwell's approach at times seems pure D.W. Griffith, with a fondness for awkward tableaux and unconvincing sentiment (poor Mira Sorvino gets a couple of particularly painfully hearts-and-flowers scenes to deliver as a consolation prize for missing out on playing Joan of Arc when Maxwell's version was dropped in the wake of Luc Besson's film). There are a few moments here and there - an intimate scene between Stonewall Jackson and his wife confiding his doubts, a scene between Jeff Daniels and Kevin Conway's sergeant about friends on the other side - but as the over-ambitious film tries to cram too much history into its four hour running time (and still scenes filmed dealing with Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and the Battle of Antietem didn't make the cut) the people just get lost.

Thankfully, the second half rallies considerably as the film reaches the Battle of Fredericksburg and the 20th Maine's disastrous charge, and the contradictions in Stephen Lang's "Stonewall" Jackson, a deeply religious man yet one who advocated taking no prisoners, become more interesting despite the film's determination to turn him into across between Jesus Christ and a vengeful Old Testament prophet. Yet sadly the lasting impression is of a film that is too sprawling and unfocussed for its own good and one that not only either needed to be a lot longer or a lot shorter but also much better written. As for the somewhat nonsensical title, it's an abbreviation of the novel's Faith in Gods and Generals. Incidentally, be warned that the DVD has one of the worst side breaks ever. Some fairly decent DVD extras, but the lack of deleted scenes implies a director's cut may be in the offing some time in the future.

Gettysburg is actually the second part in an intended trilogy that will now probably never be completed in the wake of the dismal box-office for the bloated Gods and Generals. Thankfully it gains more by having a smaller canvas, focussing on one single battle and largely on three actions - Buford's inspired initial defense on the first day, Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge - and by seeing the action from the viewpoint of both sides throughout. The characters are better drawn, the dialogue feels more natural and you get much more of a sense of what a human tragedy the war was. As a British observer on the Confederate side points out, it all boils down to "same people, different dreams."

The problem with most epics devoted to single battles or campaigns (Waterloo, Zulu Dawn, The Battle of Neretva etc) is that without a single dominating personality they often get so bogged down with history or strategy that the human element gets lost, with a succession of stars acting almost like anonymous interchangeable sports commentators only there to explain what's going on for the layman. Gettysburg has its share of characters primarily there for exposition, but by narrowing its focus to a few of them and drawing on their own letters and memoirs it's able to give them a little more depth and personality. Martin Sheen's Lee's increasingly wrong-headed strategy as he consigns more and more men to pointless deaths with a homespun rationale that leads to horrifying casualties contrasts well with Tom Berenger's more cautious Longstreet gradually realising that the tide has turned against them while Jeff Daniels' awkward but sincere Lawrence Chamberlain gives a humane and decent voice to the Union's case. Richard Jordan is genuinely affecting in his last role - his final scene is even more moving with the knowledge that he really was dying at the time - and even George Lazenby even turns up briefly. As a result, there's more involvement in what's happening and more understanding of what's at stake on a personal level to both sides during the battle. Although shot as a TV miniseries before being released theatrically, it actually looks like a feature film, and one that manages to hold the interest over its four hour running time. It's such an impressive piece of work that you can't help but wonder why so many of the same people got it so wrong so often on Gods and Generals.

Excellent extras on the double-sided DVD, but sadly none of the deleted scenes from the 270-minute laserdisc director's cut.
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A couple of years back, a spectacular war epic had the Japanese launching a sneak attack on a love triangle and Pearl Harbor [DVD] [2001] just happened to get caught in the collateral damage. In GODS AND GENERALS, several Civil War battles serve to interrupt the idyllic home life and prayers of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

There's a core of usefulness to this film, which is its reputedly and apparently accurate rendering - such as they are - of the battles of First Bull Run (1861), Fredericksburg (1862) and Chancellorsville (1863). For the historical knowledge to be gained, I would rather that today's young generation watch this than the steady diet of silly, albeit spectacular, fairy tales served up on the Silver Screen. Unfortunately, the combat footage is interspersed with too much overwritten and pretentious dialogue played to the tune of an overly melodramatic soundtrack. And since they're almost carnage-free compared to such recent war epics as Saving Private Ryan [DVD] [1998] and Band Of Brothers - HBO Complete Series [DVD], the battle sequences have been criticized as glossing over the horrors of war. But how else does the studio get the film a PG-13 rating that will allow younger audiences in to see it? To be sure, its 3 hour and 40 minute run time could have been slashed by an hour, at least. GODS AND GENERALS makes Gettysburg (Double sided DVD) [1994] seem like a great film in comparison.

Stephen Lang (General Pickett in GETTYSBURG) does a creditable job as the screenwriter's vision of Jackson, though I'm not convinced that this and the "real" Stonewall resemble each other. Unfortunately, much of the General's career and reputation was established by his brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign of early 1862, events outside the scope of this epic. From reading, my impression of Jackson is that he was an austere, aloof, brilliant and eccentric commander who drove his men to the breaking point, and won their devotion in the process. The Jackson played by Lang comes across as almost warm and fuzzy. I don't know which version is more accurate, but this relatively pallid cinematic one isn't what I expected.

Robert Duvall plays General Robert E. Lee in GODS AND GENERALS, and his rendition is much more robust and believable than Martin Sheen's in GETTYSBURG. Jeff Daniels, a little chunkier and nearly a decade older, pretty much reprises the Joshua Chamberlain character of the 20th Maine Regiment, although he occasionally falls victim to windy monologs about the sanctity of the Union and the evils of slavery. In GODS AND GENERALS, unfortunately, there's no Little Round Top to valiantly defend to the last minie ball. The best Chamberlain can do is get pinned down by Confederate fire below Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg

Civil war buffs such as myself will certainly enjoy this film while fidgeting between battles. First Bull Run comes across rather stiff and awkward, but the troops are fully into it by Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. It also helps if the viewer has some pre-knowledge of the battlefields and the locations of the opposing lines because there's too little elucidation provided by the on-screen tacticians. Those who've seen GETTYSBURG will recognize many of the actors who reprise their roles from the earlier sequel.

See GODS AND GENERALS and appreciate it for what it's worth. But don't expect a profoundly moving or satisfying experience.
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2006
This is a stunning depiction of both battles and personalities of the early Civil War, using primarily the story of the brilliant General `Stonewall' Jackson as its `hook'. It is based on the book by Jeffrey Shaara, which was the first in a trilogy. The second of the books has already been filmed, as Gettysburg, by the same team that made this movie.

The movie did not fare well at the box office, putting the movie of the last in the trilogy in doubt - which is a shame, as there is a lot to be admired here. Where Gettysburg was first and foremost a historical re-enactment of the pivotal battle of the Civil War, this movie focuses far more on the characters and personalities, and even home life, of the main protagonists. Yes, it's a mite long - it covers a lot of ground though. It takes us from the start of the war, with Robert Duvall as Robert E Lee rejecting the overall command of the Northern army to join the confederate army protecting his home state of Virginia, through to the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

The battles scenes are as authentic as could be, and satisfyingly achieved not through Lord of the Rings style CGI, but actual historical battle re-enactors (over 7000 were used). The best thing about these battles is that the sense of strategy and purpose behind them is much clearer than normally seen in movies such as these - you always have the idea that above the ground level horror and confusion there is a reason for it all. This is in keeping with the second half of the title, the generals view on warfare and battles.

The first half of the title, God, permeates the entire movie. Stonewall Jackson was an intensely religious man (as the excellent short documentaries show), whose views and talks with God had a profound effect on his style of command and personal courage. Most of the characters have some relationship with God, as both sides claim to have God on their side and both pray for victory.

The movie is full of memorable moments - the two soldiers from opposite sides who meet on the river on Christmas Day to share tobacco and coffee, the time in Fredericksburg when the Irish divisions on both sides are forced to fight each other, the moment when Jackson finally breaks down in tears - not at the death of his soldiers, but when the 5 year old girl he has befriended dies of Scarlet Fever. This all brings a sense of humanity to the movie that Gettysburg had in smaller amounts.

The language may be one of the factors that put people off - it is archaic to the point of sounding pompous to our ears, and yet sounds authentic to the period. There are many apt and well voiced quotes from poems and scripture - which certainly drag the movie out, but to my mind at least make the movie a more complete one.

Finally, credit must go to the score of Randy Edelman and John Frizell - the combination of stirring and emotional music, with songs of the day and new songs in the titles, make for an entirely perfect combination.

All in all, a definitive version of the early Civil War and General Jackson's life, which while flawed in terms of length and pace, is a rewarding viewing experience.
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on 4 May 2015
A lot of the reviews of this have been critical of its historical accuracy but seem to have missed the point that the book it is taken from is a work of fiction albeit using historical figures and a historical backdrop. As long as you understand that and can see the flaws I still found it enjoyable and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as long as you are not looking for a strict version of the history of Stonewall Jackson.
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on 4 May 2016
As an overview of the key Eastern Theatre battles from Bull Run to Chancellorsville this tells a good storey. However, it is clearly its producer Ted Turner's indulgence (he has a cameo) since the bias is overwhelmingly Southern with inadequate mention of the cause of the Civil War - slavery. Aside from two small scenes you would gain the impression that Negro slaves were content in their subservience.
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This lovingly made film covers the war career of Stonewall Jackson in a reverential manner that is not really fashionable these days. Its subject is the usual bundle of seeming contradictions that constitute folks from the past. The themes of service and religion mixing with a very aggressive attitude to the Yankee invaders, and slavery hanging around the edges. Into this Rebel world comes a sub-theme of the union officer (Chamberlain) who we meet at Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Chamberlain is in some ways Jackson's Union opposite, also a teacher, also religious but also an amateur soldier where Jackson is a professional to the tip of his very large beard. Both tend to prose fit to bust, at times the script reads like those 19th century novels where the story telling deserves the description "dense". But I am not persuaded that this is inaccurate.

Between conversations we Yahoos can enjoy some extensive battle scenes in which rather portly re-enactors give one a very good idea of what it was like. The film does regard military service and sacrifice as honourable things, and in this it is faithful to the period. The battles are not the usual League of Evil Marksmen affairs, here both sides take casualties as they duke it out face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder. First Bull Run, Fredericskburg, Chancellorsville are all well observed though Fredericksburg gives one a feeling of World War One as the units rush towards the Confederate fortifications.

While I thought much it did was worthy I must confess to resorting to the fast forward when another Yack Attack threatened. The Christmas scene being particularly nauseating, but that probably says more about modern tastes than the subject of the film.
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on 3 March 2004
For those who are interested in purchasing this film for Region 2: The DVD was just published in Germany (under its original title) with the original sound track (English and German language) on a double-sided disc; it can be ordered from amazon.de (Amazon's German Website -- you can switch to English language on the Website; the procedure and the buttons are all the same, and you can use the same name and password as for amazon.co.uk).
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on 12 June 2009
enjoyed the film so much i have bought a book about stonewall jackson who the film portray's.
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