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on 17 September 2010
First, a little personal background. My ancestors in Tennessee and Texas were Unreconstructed Confederates to the core.

When the Civil War aka the "War Between the States" aka the "War of Northern Aggression" aka the "War of the Rebellion" was won and lost, the hopes and dreams of the Southron States (as they would soon take to calling themselves) were toppled and smashed flat. Many ex-Confederates began to rethink their past and to redefine themselves. Leading the parade of redefiners was no less a personage than ex-President Jefferson Davis. Not far behind him on the military side was Jubal Early, a cantankerous, unlucky general who had managed to set off the Battle of Gettysburg by accident, just missed capturing Washington, D.C. ["Early was too late," chortled Sherman to Grant], and had the boom lowered on him--hard!--by Phil Sheridan. Davis, Early and a host of others collectively created what has come to be known as the "Lost Cause."

Included among the many tenets of the Lost Cause is the notion that the South was a natural country, a freedom-loving nation driven reluctantly to take up arms by the rapacious greed of coarse, indifferent Northerners. And, oh yes, a nation in which slavery played only a limited part among a narrow segment of the population, but which, nevertheless, conferred social and economic benefits for all.

The Lost Cause was, of course, unmitigated baloney. And it still is.

Slavery was the evil core of the Confederacy. Don't take my word for it. Read the pre-war speeches of southerners extolling its God-ordained virtues.

The economic impact of slavery was overwhelming. Consider just the cost of giving up slavery: a typical male slave in good physical condition had a market price of about $1200 dollars in 1861. That was an enormous sum, far greater than the annual income of a free working man in the agrarian South. Multiply that amount by the number of slaves and understand why the South was reluctant to release a major portion of its population from servitude. The Lost Cause to the contrary, financial greed and rapacity were not the exclusive property of the Damyankees.

This movie is very much a piece of Lost Cause thinking. Like many of the advocates of the Lost Cause, it uses half-truths to tell great whopping lies. The most egregious of these half-truths involve the slaves portrayed on the screen. Offhand, I can't recall coming across Stonewall Jackson's cook in Douglas Southall Freeman's magisterial, three-volume history "Lee's Lieutenants," but I am willing to accept that there was such an individual much as portrayed in the film. I am further willing to accept that at Fredericksburg and elsewhere were, as portrayed on screen, house slaves who displayed great loyalty to the persons and property of their owners. But I am NOT willing to accept the movie's refusal to acknowledge that first thousands and then tens of thousands of slaves flocked to the Union army encampments.

The blue coated soldiers were initially at a loss to know what to do with them. A few believed that they were still property and returned them to their owners, sometimes by force. General Fremont declared them to be free and earned a blistering retort from Lincoln which forced him to rescind his premature Emancipation Proclamation. At last a bright spark of a Yankee decided that the inflowing slaves were contraband of war and therefore subject to confiscation from owners who were in rebellion against the lawful government of the United States. "Contrabands" they became--and their efforts contributed greatly to the Union cause.

Another half-true lie is the scene in which that singularly admirable man of peace and war, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, contemplates the forthcoming Battle of Fredericksburg. He is shown quoting a classical passage on the return of Julius Caesar and his legions to the stream forming the boundary between Italy and his designated command area in Gaul. By crossing that otherwise insignificant stream, Caesar placed himself at war with the legitimate power of the Senate and People of Rome. He set on the path to seizing unlimited and tyrannical personal power. The placement and set-up of this scene clearly implies that Chamberlain identified his army on the verge of crossing the Rapahannock River with that of Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, and that this crossing into Southron land was the beginning of a tyrannical seizure of power.

Now, Chamberlain, among many other things, was a college professor and far more learned in the classics than most of us today. He might have even have made just such a quotation. If he did, it is irrelevant. First, the Union had already occupied territory in Virginia and had done so from the first day of the war, so the Army of the Potomac crossing that particular river had no significance for tyranny or otherwise. Second, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had just three months before invaded the North (and had paid a bloody price at the Battle of Antietam aka Sharpsburg.) And third, to Yankee minds if anyone had crossed a Rubicon in willful defiance of his country and its laws, it was Confederate General Beauregard when he fired on Fort Sumter.

This is a film made up of several strands. "The Life of Saint Stonewall" is such a strand, one closely related to the Lost Cause. The nearest thing to a central figure in the film is Thomas Jonathan Jackson, whose life is loosely followed from the time he was a major in the US Army to the day he died as Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson, commander of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, slain by "friendly fire" after his set-piece triumph at Chancellorsville. Jackson is by any measure extraordinary, a man as much out of the normal course of humanity as George S. Patton (whose ancestor and namesake, by the way, died commanding the 22d Virginia under General Jubal Early).

A biopic of Jackson might have been something to see, but this is not it. Here, Jackson is made much less than he really was. Like most of his contemporaries who grew up on the classics and devoured the works of Charles Dickens, Jackson was given to what seem to us to be pompous statements about duty combined with excessive sentimentality where children were concerned. The movie gives us plenty of that--too much, in fact--but it shortchanges us on Jackson the man who kept his secrets, Jackson the man who waged ferocious feuds with other generals and, most of all, Jackson the man of war. It entirely ignores Jackson in independent command in the Shenandoah Valley, carrying out one of the most brilliant campaigns in all of military history. It is blind to Jackson at Second Bull Run, playing the anvil upon which the Army of Northern Virginia hammered poor, befuddled John Pope in Robert E. Lee's most perfect battle.

Finally, there are the battle scenes offered up by re-enactors in the thousands. Specifically, we are shown a portion of the battlefield at the First Battle of Bull Run (aka Manassas) in 1861, Fredericksburg in 1862 and Chancellorsville in 1863. These are the core of the movie. The volunteer re-enactors devote vast quantities of time, money and discomfort to accuracy. The producers virtually crow over the perfection of their images.

And I don't buy them for a second.

Bull Run was a complex series of encounters between two newly-raised and largely untrained armies. It most certainly was not won by Jackson's brigade making a single frontal assault.

Fredericksburg was a three-phase battle that began with the building of a bridge while under heavy fire, a skirmish in the town and then the great, tragic assault on Lee's impregnable position. It is the third phase that is unique. A union brigade would march up the heights, be shot to pieces and another brigade would pass over the survivors to be shot to pieces in turn, again and again ... and yet again. The stupendous bravery of the affair was matched only by the unbelievable stupidity of it. In the movie we see the first Union brigade attack and fall, a second attack in parade ground order and a suggested third. There were many, many more than that. The unspeakable futility of this most futile of battles is hardly suggested.

At Chancellorsville, Jackson moved his corps swiftly and silently over mere country tracks to get to the unprotected flank of the much larger Union army. Jackson's men were famous and tireless marchers but even they realized that their feat was something extraordinary. They emerged out of the trees and routed the 11th Corps of the US Army--to the endless shame of that particularly luckless outfit. The movie shows Jackson's corps begin its move and then it tells us they've arrived. The grueling march that is the very essence of the battle is barely suggested.

Then the movie, in true pageant form, shows Confederate soldiers, hidden within the tree line, standing silently to attention in their extended line of battle, waiting for Jackson's order to attack. Well, I for one do not believe that any Confederate soldier anywhere ever stood silently at attention while waiting for the order the move out, especially not exhausted, foot-weary ones. And if I did believe that, I flat out do not believe--based on the universal testimony of the Confederates themselves--that any Confederate attack was ever made in straight and closely aligned lines of battle. And even if I believed THAT, I still wouldn't believe that Jackson and his whole staff would ride twenty yards behind his skirmishers and in front of his main battle lines through the whole depth of the enemy position.

Finally, those re-enactors. They are too healthy. Too well-fed. Look at the contemporary photographs. By 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia was a fantastically skillful military machine composed of rail-thin, mad-eyed scarecrows--in no way resembling those good ol' boys on the screen.

"Gods and Generals" is undramatic, misleading and ultimately unconvincing. Too bad.

Two stars.
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on 9 November 2017
This film garnered much flak upon its 2003 release, the bulk of which can be traced to its explicitly sympathetic (though by no means steadfastly pious or uncritical) portrayal of the Southern Confederacy, which is highly offensive to liberal orthodoxy, and particularly at odds with the totalitarian progressive political sensibilities of the majority of established film and media critics. In addition to this, there is a general antipathy in contemporary American culture to the grand, elevated language and themes exhibited in Gods and Generals, and especially the recurrent, unvarnished, and unapologetic display of fervent religiosity, all of which are very authentic to the period. Concerning the latter point, it bears noting the oddness of people showing up to see a movie called "Gods and Generals", and then at length taking umbrage at the fact that such a movie would be permeated with talk about God.

The fact is that the culture of nineteenth century America, particularly for the upper classes comprising the aristocracies of both North and South, was heavily steeped in the Greek and Roman classical culture of antiquity and in Victorian manners and decorum. While some of the dialogue may thus appear stilted or stodgy to a contemporary viewer accustomed to hearing historical figures anachronistically mouth unpolished vernacular or even slang, it is nevertheless an honest representation of the tastes, language, and preoccupations of the people of that time. The critics may not like this stylistic choice, but to object to it as in itself indicative of "woodenness" and "empty bombast" is simply obtuse.

Then there are the multiple disparate story strands which crop up in different places and that do not, in the manner of a commonplace story-driven commercial film, serve as mere perfunctory devices deployed to prop up a single, overarching dramatic line, but rather terminate vaguely, unsettling churlish minds bent on a callow aesthetic of blunt, orderly functionality, while augmenting the complex beauty of the whole. Whereas Gods and Generals attempts to put forth a visual-poetic panopticon of competing allegiances and cultures, modern philistine tastes perversely demand a distinct locus of drama and a bludgeoning narrative that cuts through with unmistakable clarity and purpose; a conventional dramatic thrust and a relentless, focused tension building toward a clear denouement in which all elements issue logically and compellingly in a final moment of completion, conviction, and certainty. It demands the aggressive vapidity of "plain" vernacularized language (misleadingly regarded as "more authentic") and straightforward narrative gestures and dialogue, to shepherd the viewer through without too much recourse to effort or imagination, and with few unguarded detours. Far from falling short of any such spurious ideals, Maxwell's creation strives to furnish a very different kind of cinematic experience, one that is episodic and contemplative, poetic and solemn, besides being far deeper. The downside of this is, of course, that those accustomed to the drivel of easy-flowing, low-investment light entertainment which routinely fills the multiplexes, will find it an unbearably ponderous slog full of pompous affectation and "boring" speeches. Apropos to this, I have only to cite in response Schopenhauer's dictum concerning the unfortunate collision of certain kinds of heads with certain kinds of great works. Comparably apt in this connection, is the ancient Roman expression: "similis simili gaudet."

Gods and Generals eschews the familiar tone and stylistic conventions of such superficially gratifying cliche and instead attempts to inspire us with a painterly visual grandeur, and by evoking a stately majesty of noble gentlemen far long past. Contrary to the harsh criticism expressed by other reviewers, the cinematography is spectacular; framed with a keen eye for stately grandeur and a profound kinesthetic sensitivity, it enthralls and even jars the senses. The battle scenes alternately elicit horror, tenderness, and sublimity, offering a vivid display of the gallantry and courage of men faced with an ominous, often brutal, undertaking that pushes the limits of human endurance to the outer edges of insanity. Ronald Maxwell's lateral tracking shots frequently generate a sense of immediacy and thrilling intensity rarely seen on screen. There are, admittedly, certain flaws in the execution of the material now and then: some heavy handed scenes and the occasional appearance of wooden acting. While indeed lamentable, such minor shortcomings are certainly forgivable, especially considering the sheer breadth of the project and the unique stylistic constraints. Taken as a whole, the film hovers very near greatness, riveting the viewer and leaving a lasting impression upon the mind and senses of all but the irretrievably prejudiced or implacably insensate modern weaned on the pablum of mass market entertainment convention.

Gods and Generals could easily have succumbed to the trivialities and commonplaces of the "swords and muskets" genre so often observed in the most well known pictures based on the Civil War, drowning in formulaic scenes, exaggerated personality conflicts, stereotypical characters, high melodrama, and a stultifying adherence to bland moral certainties. Thankfully, the producer and director of this film had the vision and intellectual courage to break with the commercial imperatives of "easy viewing" in order to strive for a transcendent artistic achievement.

This is a movie not to be missed by any lover of cinematic epics. There are now two versions of Gods and Generals available: the original theatrical cut and an extended version which adds an entire new plot line and various other bits of previously elided footage running in the vicinity of an extra hour and a half of viewing time. My preference is strongly for the theatrical cut, though I tend to be in the minority on this count. Both have their merits and are well worth savoring.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 April 2017
This should have been the first in the trilogy however the much acclaimed 'Gettysburg' which actually
followed events depicted in 'Gods And Generals' was made and released first....sadly because for whatever
reason this film didn't do so well, the third 'Last Full Measure' was shelved...shame.
''I never thought i'd live to see the day when the President of The United States would raise an army to invade his own Country -
'General Robert E Lee'
A war that would deepen division throughout a nation in the hope of uniting it, a war that would set brother against brother, a
war that would create far too many widows and fatherless children, a war in which both sides believed their cause to be just.
The film starts with 'General Robert E Lee' (Robert Duvall) rejecting the invitation to lead the Union-Army against the Southern
states rebellion, and resigning his post, as a southerner he is only too aware that his home state of Virginia could and almost
certainly would join the conflict to try and repel the invaders.....He was destined to be the commander of The Southern army.
The film does try to see the conflict from both sides though centers it's attention on Confederate General 'Thomas Johnathan
'Stonewall' Jackson' a religious man, yet brilliant military man, who would lead his troops to many successes during the first
half of the war-years.
There were indeed many battles, both sides achieving victories...the film depicts three of them, two in 1862 'Manassas'
'Fredericksburg' both Confederate successes, and in 1863 'Chancellorsville' during which, though a Confederate success, saw
'Stonewall Jackson' accidentally mortally wounded by his own troops whilst out riding at night with his staff planning the next
days events.
The battle that would, though the war was only half way through, almost certainly turn the conflict in the Unions favour was
but a few weeks away - Gettysburg
The film i feel was unfairly criticised by many.....
With prolonged and well-staged and brutal battle sequences the film i feel captures the high's and lows of battle and it's effect
on loved ones, along with the despair experienced by civilians as their homes became under siege.
A well made historical film...though only telling a small portion of the overall story
(Reviewed after re-watching the theatrical-version i own, however realising there were significant additions including the build-up
and indeed September 1862 Battle of 'Antietam' in the extended-cut, i have since added this to my collection - worth considering)
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10 years after the release of the epic Gettysburg, Ted Turner's millions funded an equally (or perhaps even more?) epic follow-up, which, confusingly perhaps, is a prequel. Like Gettysburg, it is also, in its DVD format, a lengthy two-disc affair. Unlike Gettysburg, however, Gods and Generals covers a much longer period, taking in numerous story-lines and three battles: Bull Run (aka Manassas), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Jeff Bridges returns, perhaps rather bizarrely, especially for those who come to this having seen Gettysburg, looking older whilst playing the younger J. L. Chamberlain. Several other actors also re-appear, some in the same roles, some in different ones. Stephen Lang, who played Gen. Pickett in Gettysburg, is superb as 'Stonewall' Jackson, the dominant central character whose story binds the film together. I think I prefer Robert Duval's Robert E. Lee in this, to Martin Sheen's in Gettysburg, as I think Duval both looks more like Lee, and has something closer to the required aura (although Lee is hard to know in reality, as he's been so mythologised!)

For history fans, and especially military-history buffs, this is another real treat. The battle scenes are just stunning. Gettysburg was superb, but this is even better. I don't usually bother with extras, but I did listen to some of the commentary, in which director Ronald Maxwell sums up superbly what these battle scenes attempt to do, which is the paradoxical job of conveying battlefield confusion whilst maintaining narrative clarity.

The strength of Christian religious references throughout the movie - from the title to the frequent pious supplications in the dialogue, inc. much prayer and Bible-quoting - which may well still sit well in contemporary Bible-belt America, could easily strike an odd chord for the modern secular viewer. But it's excellently handled, sympathetically portraying a quality of how that culture probably really was back then. In places it's actually very powerful and moving, as for example when 'Stonewall' Jackson visits his home, and spends time earnestly praying with his wife.

Having enjoyed Gettysburg, and then this, I'm excited by the prospect of a third part in this potential ACW trilogy, which is apparently to be called Last Full Measure. I hope we don't have to wait another full measure of a decade for that one!

All in all ... excellent!
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on 11 January 2009
You have to 'open your mind' to fully enjoy this film. In my opinion it should have been titled General 'Stonewall' Jackson as it is, in truth, about this man, his role and beliefs. View the commentaries before you watch the film as this helps you to get your head straight culturally - and that is important. The British and Americans are endemically Christian nations of various denominations but 'God' is a much bigger element of 'raison d'etre' in this film than he would ever have been in Britain at that time and, even to this day, bible bashing is big business in the US whereas here it is not. How often have we heard George W Bush refer to God in connection with justifying a means to an end. We don't do this and, unless you absorb and accept this, you will not enjoy this film. Try not to dwell too much on the ironies of 'God v slave ownership'/both sides believed that they had 'the Lord' on their side etc.

Now, the film itself. I have read other reviews that talk about the 'sanitisation' of the battle scenes and them not being portrayed in their true nature, the horrific injuries etc. Initially I thought that these views were rather goulish but, on reflection, I tend to agree and am left thinking that the battle scenes could have been better portrayed. Why are there no plan views from above showing the respective positions of the two armies? There are scenes that imply the greater military strategical skills of 'Johnny Reb' compared to the Union generals (there are Generals all over the place by the way - I lost the plot on who was who and wondered why so many were necessary?)In one of the three battles the Unionists have to climb a long hill, surmounted by a stone wall behind which are the largely protected Confederates. In addition to this the Confederate batteries, in addition to the protected muskaters, blow seven bells out of the advancing Union forces - who would appear to have no artillery of their own? Quite bizarre but, again, a plan view of the battlefield would have helped if only to perhaps endorse the view that the Union command were on a hiding to nothing!!

The uniforms are confusing, particularly at the beginning - again listen to the commentaries under 'extras' and, whilst that improved thereafter, what happens?......the Union army then put on trench coats that are blue grey and makes them look like Confederates again!

I enjoyed this film and will now watch Gettysburg as that, historically, followed this film and I will watch the documentary 'The American Civil War' in order to get a rounded opinion but suspect that I will be left with the ultimate, predicatable view that wars are often not worth the cost. Even to this day there are clear political and cultural differences between the North and the South and I wonder if they would be less so had this war never happened. Maybe Obama's determination to 'unite the country' may deliver but I think it would have a greater chance if he came from Mississipi and not Illinois.

I did not particularly like Jackson's portrayal in the film (due probably to accurate history but 'give me break' when emphasising his religious beliefs with the hypocricy of it all). Robert Duvall's portrayal of Robert E. Lee is much more viewer/listener friendly although he looks like he's 70 years old - was he?

One final point. Who are the guys in red uniforms fighting for the Unionists seen particularly at the beginning - Europeans?
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on 20 February 2012
For 30 yrs. I've read books, including primary sources on the Civil War. Also, in college I wrote a 130 paper on the Battle of Gettysburg using many primary sources the Wiles collection at UCSB. And, I must admit that this is one of the most accurate Civil War films ever made. People tend to forget that history is always written by the victors, which is why we hear so much about the North in the CW & much less about the South. If you wanna see a film that bends over backwards to display bias about coverage of the war in favor of the Union, just check out Ken Burn's series.

Frankly, most of the scenes made great sense and are very well done. Most people that don't like it are offended that Gods and Generals featured so much of the Confederacy in the film. Well, isn't it about time you heard their story?

Then others are greatly offended that Jackson's slave cook is depicted as so loyal to him. They would like someone like Al Sharpton to play him, bursting at the seams with anger and bitterness. Well, that simply would not be historically accurate either.

Yet another reason most critics, and many people do not like the film is it's emphasis on Jackson's faith. No one will say this, but I will.

Frankly, nearly all film critics do not like any favorable performance of people playing Christians in any film. And, just showing the actual faith of Jackson turned off too many people. It is too bad that some viewers couldn't check their personal biases at the theater door. To separate Jackson from his faith would be a travesty as well as completely wrong. In his case, you just cannot separate the faith from the man. This role simply and accurately shows him as he was in matters of faith.

Of course, we must remember that Jackson had an icy cold ruthless side of him just as he was a man of faith.

Look, friends, this is how life was in the South in the 1860s. Some treated their slaves badly, and others treated them fairly well within the historical context. Not all southerners were Simone Legree's with a whip in their hand.

One of the small items I would have done to make a better film is to get the guy who played Longstreet in Gettysburg to play him in Gods and Generals. Also, as good as Jeff Daniels is, his long dronings should have been cut down. They were a bit much.

The scene w/ Ted Turner in it while they all sing Bonny Blue Flag was not necessary. Yet, I supposed if you are financing the movie, you can pretty much do as you like.

If you really want to see how people fought, lived and thought in the Civil War, this is the film for you. If you don't, go see Red Badge of Courage.

If there was only 1 film I could recommend to see about the Civil War, this would be it. Next would be Gettysburg.

I'm just sad that Shaara's final film of this trilogy will not be made. He deserves better!
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on 9 February 2006
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 August 2011
In spite of the prayerful pretensions of this film, I rather enjoyed it.
From the title, you might expect a gritty war epic in the style of Rome or The Lord of the Rings but in its place you will get one of those lovey-dovey nicey-nicey American epics where every rough edge (e.g. battle violence, coarse language etc) is smoothed out.

Fortunately for this film it isn't too corny and the excellent battle scenes more than offset the piety of General 'Stonewall' Jackson (who actually comes across more as 'Sugarlump' Jackson).
I also found that this film was an excellent education in the American Civil war. Whereas Wikipedia or books on the subject have a tendency to make battles seem dry and boring, this film fully encapsulates the First Battle of the Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorville, all the while enabling you to see why the Southern generals were seen as so gifted.

That said, you can't get away from the impression that producer Ted Turner (who does the commentary) makes up for his bleak news reports ("by 1990, we will all be dead from Aids") by making historical movies that are the polar opposite. Though the battles and action are convincing, the dialogue and characters can come over a little too saccharine and pious when really, as other reviewers have commented, 'Stonewall' Jackson was far more gritty than he is portrayed. In a way, you wish that Turner had included a little bit more of his realism in the film, so that the characters were a little bit more 3D.

While on the films faults, I'd also criticize the films extras, which had very little extra information on the battles portrayed in the film. Yes - there is an exploration of 'Stonewall' Jackson, but it would have also been good to see more information on the actual history and what the battles were (the names of the battles are not mentioned in the film, and such knowledge is rather assumed).

Anyways, aside from this the film is well worth watching and is essential viewing if you want to understand the American Civil war.
One last thing to point out is that it is possibly a little long at 220 minutes or 3 hours 40 minutes (the type of film that is split over two DVD's). From experience, this is worth bearing in mind if you have work the next morning.
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on 9 July 2012
I am neither a Civil War historian nor a movie critic, but despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews "Gods and Generals" received by most movie critics at the time of its release I would argue this is still a great piece of American cinema despite the glaring flaws of the movie version. The Director's Cut fills in many of the gaps and makes the experience all the more powerful and enjoyable, though few can sit through 4 hours and 39 minutes in one sitting. Had this been released as it now appears in three parts just as "John Adams" this would have been hailed a great American epic. True, many of the actors who did such an outstanding job in "Gettysburg" were not able to reprise their roles, e.g., Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee or Tom Berenger as Longstreet, but Stephen Lang turns out a very fine performance as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and if James Robertson's 800 page bio of Jackson is any indication, then "Gods and Generals" does a fine job of portraying a lively version of the Confederate general, for in real life only Jeb Stuart was able to make him laugh. Lang's Jackson captures both the piety and the gravitas of the general's persona without making a grim caricature of the man. Other pluses of the Directors' Cut are the battle scenes of Antietam only hinted at in the movie version. In this version the reason for Lee's first invasion of the North is given (1 hour and 22 minutes into the film) and then the battle in the wheat field near Sharpsburg, MD lasts some seven minutes, though Jackson's own involvement in that engagement as well as his role at Fredericksburg are not shown here.

Few other battles besides Waterloo and Gettysburg have received as much cinematic treatment as the battle of Fredericksburg that took place before Christmas of 1862 and which was Union retaliation for Lee's first invasion of the North. The Director's Cut of the battle is almost an hour long focusing primarily on the failed and horrific assault on Marye's heights where 7,500 Union soldiers were mowed down in just a few hours as wave after wave of Union troops were sent uphill towards the stone wall that lay towards the bottom of the heights. This colossal mistake presages Lee's own miscalculation in the sequel, "Gettysburg," where Lee himself orders Pickett's brigade of 5,000 men to march a mile across an open field under heavy artillery bombardment. The northern pillaging of the town of Fredericksburg shown here infuriated the Confederacy, only steeling its resolve to fight against perceived northern aggression whereas Lee's smashing victory at Chancellorsville also shown here in detail encouraged him to launch his second invasion of the North that would end the Confederacy's chances of a military resolution to the War. The victories at Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville - all shown here - encouraged Lee to make the very same mistakes later that Burnside makes here at Fredericksburg, which is why that battle receives so much treatment in this film. The cinematic treatment of Fredericksburg in "Gods and Generals" is intended to balance out Lee's disastrous order for Pickett's Charge in "Gettysburg." The Union men shouting, "Fredericksburg" behind the stone wall at Gettysburg shows how the two horrific assaults are intended to be viewed as a whole, demonstrating the horror BOTH sides experienced.

SPOILER ALERT: A few other interesting pluses of the Extended Edition are interesting vignettes of John Wilkes Booth playing both MacBeth and then later Brutus in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." Afterwards he is asked whether he considered Brutus a villain or a hero. (All the more relevant given that he exclaimed, "Sic semper tyrannus!" after assassinating Lincoln.) Lincoln is also shown in the theater, and there are some other humorous episodes of Stonewall Jackson that are worth viewing, especially if you have some appreciation for the man given that "Gods and Generals" is something of an homage to Jackson.

To my mind the major flaw of "Gods and Generals" is the extended coverage of too many peripheral characters, most of whom come across as just a tad too quaint, genteel and Christian for many modern viewers. The length of the movie makes it almost unwatchable in one sitting, and there is a tad too much praying and speechifying going on, but this is still a monumental tribute to one of America's most defining moments. That Ted Turner financed the entire enterprise and was rewarded so thanklessly is a shame, for "Gods and Generals" is more than a history lesson, though it will be best appreciated if broken up into morsels.
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on 23 June 2012
Based on the book Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara, son of the late Micheal Shaara, whose Pulitzer Prize winning book The Killer Angels was the influence for the movie Gettysburg which was made a decade before this prequel, both movies written & directed by Ronald F. Maxwell with financial backing by Ted Turner. Stephen Lang who played the eccentric Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett in Gettysburg is given the privilege to play the great General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Some may recall Lang from previous films due to this eccentric acting style, in films such as Avatar ,Conan the Barbarian or The Hard Way. Here he is playing a more restricted style of eccentric, with a religious twist.

Gods & Generals tells use the story about what motivated the war, the rise of the confederacy under General Robert E.Lee, with the life & experiences of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson taking center piece to it all. As an American Civil War enthusiast, and Jackson being a General of the period that i really respect, for his tactical ability & great leadership. This film was an interesting insight into a side of him i never knew existed before, his strong religious beliefs. Stephen Lang's performance was great, and the highlight of the film for me was the fight in the Wilderness, where Jackson's corps catch the Union 11th corps with their pants down. Robert Duvall does a very competent job filling the shoes of Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee. Other actors from the previous films do appear in order to keep continuity, like the impressive (especially in the first film) Jeff Daniels who reprises his role as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. While with it being 10 years between them, real life events effect the availability of the original cast members.

G&G's may not be full of action compared to Gettysburg, but the action sequences are well done & none the less a particular highlight when they appear, albeit not quite as exciting on the whole. As you'd expect with a historical film, it does rely heavily on the famous quotes used at the time, as you can see the cogs turning in the actors minds as they recite them word for word.

In conclusion, God's & General's is a nice historical insight into the build up of the events prior to Gettysburg, following General Jackson's carer. Civil War enthusiasts will get more out of it, as it may lack the constant action, along with it's quite slow pace with lots of dialogue with only a few well done action set pieces to break it up. Recommended.
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