I haven’t done a movie post in a LONG time so I thought that I would post about one of the BEST movies to be filmed about a “bad” time in American history. There are very few movies that are based on books that you will actually hear me say the words “the movie was better.” but Gettysburg is one of them….Hands down.
Honestly, I could not think of the “right” words to put in to this review to make it even come close to what it is that I LOVE about this movie….so I found this review that you are about to read and I think it does a better job than I ever could have.
“One need not be a lifelong student of the Civil War to appreciate the themes threaded throughout Gettysburg. As did Shaara’s novel, the film uses the battle to explore duty, patriotism, comradeship and devotion to a cause. Of these, perhaps duty is the one theme that stands out best in all its forms.
Lee (played by Martin Sheen) has placed what he sees as his duty to his home state of Virginia over his duty to the United States and leads the South’s forces against his former comrades in arms (or, as Lee refers to his Union adversaries, “those people”).
Union cavalry General John Buford (Sam Elliott) has only a small brigade to hold off an entire Confederate infantry corps as it advances toward Gettysburg on the battle’s first day – a potential suicide mission. But Buford knows that the Army of Potomac’s only chance is to occupy the best defensive ground before the enemy can reach it. Buford’s duty is to stand fast and hold as long as he can.
Lee’s principal subordinate, General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) feels Lee’s plan for Pickett’s Charge is sheer suicide and argues repeatedly against the action. Yet in the end, Longstreet executes the futile plan since Lee is in command and it is therefore Longstreet’s duty to carry out the orders.
Chamberlain (Daniels) fears his outnumbered regiment will likely be destroyed trying to defend the key hilltop, Little Round Top. Yet he knows his unit anchors the far left flank of Meade’s entire position and therefore he understands that it is his and the regiment’s duty to try to hold the line at all costs.
Finally, in what might be termed a “corporate” expression of Soldiers’ devotion to duty, 10,000 Confederate troops in a mile-long line step off at 2 p.m. on July 3, 1863, and march toward the center of the Union line a half mile away. Most know that the assault is likely to be a one-way trip. Yet faithful to their duty as Soldiers – and their duty to one another – the men go forward into the bloody shambles of Pickett’s Charge.
Maxwell frames the story chronologically over the three-day period while depicting the action through the eyes and relationships of key players. The viewer feels Lee’s frustration with his flamboyant cavalry commander General J.E.B Stuart, whose untimely absence during the prelude to battle denies Lee vital intelligence and ultimately robs the Confederates of the high ground – and yet one can’t help but marvel at Lee’s self-control during Stuart’s midnight “counseling session.” And for insight into what motivates Soldiers – even today’s Soldiers – pay particular attention to Chamberlain’s low-key entreaty to the 120 mutineers from Maine’s 2d Regiment: “What we’re fighting for, in the end, we are fighting for each other.”
The film’s cinematography is wonderful, the dialogue moves the drama along effortlessly, and the depiction of Civil War-era maneuver is admirably accurate. In particular, this is the first film of this genre to correctly show artillery combat. Dozens of cannon and their re-enactor crews were gathered to depict this extremely important – but too often poorly filmed – aspect of Civil War battles.
Yet awesome combat scenes aside, the dramatic story is what holds the viewer’s attention. The drama surrounding the 20th Maine’s defense of Little Round Top on the second day of the battle is a prime example. After watching the Confederates assault Little Round Top repeatedly, each attack nearly breaking Chamberlain’s thin line, his audacious command of “Bayonets!” comes across as a powerfully dramatic portrayal of brave men in desperate combat. Seeing Confederate General Lewis “Lo” Armistead (the late Richard Jordan’s final role) lead Pickett’s men from the front and hearing Longstreet’s clairvoyant description of the event about to unfold helps viewers fully appreciate the futility, courage and remarkable dedication exemplified by Pickett’s Charge.
In sum, Gettysburg is the best depiction of the carnage of combat and the drama of this brother-against-brother war – America’s most deadly conflict – that filmmakers have yet put together.”