Gettysburg [1993]

Three days in the summer of 1863, at a place called Gettysburg. Although it received a theatrical release, this four-hour depiction of the bloody Civil War battle was shot as a made-for-television film. But no taint of cheapness or shortcuts should stick to this magnificent picture (well, except maybe for those phony-looking mustaches). Based on Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels, this film takes a refreshingly slow, thorough approach to the intricacies of battle. In ordinary circumstances, those intricacies might seem of importance only to fans of military strategy or Civil War enthusiasts, yet in Gettysburg they come across as the very stuff of life, death, and unexpected heroism. If the film has a problem, it's that it climaxes too early: the first long segment, detailing the struggle of a "civilian soldier," Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), to hold his ground against long odds, is an enthralling piece of moviemaking. Daniels, in a heartbreaking performance, does his best film work. Other cast members include Tom Berenger, Sam Elliott, and Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee. Richard Jordan, in his final role, gives a powerhouse performance as Confederate general Lewis A. Armistead. Oh, and you can also try to spot Ted Turner, whose company produced the film, as a Confederate soldier. Writer-director Ronald F. Maxwell seems inspired by the gravity of the battle; long as it is, every moment of Gettysburg is informed by a nobility of purpose. --Robert Horton

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Col. Arthur Freemantle:
I'm told you're descendant of an illustrious military family?

Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead:
Who told you that? Kemper?

Col. Arthur Freemantle:
He tells me it was your uncle who defended Fort McHenry during the war of 1812, and that he was therefore regarded as the guardian of the original star-spangled banner. I must say, I do appreciate the irony of it all.

Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead:
Col. Freemantle, it does not begin or end, with my uncle or myself. We're all sons of Virginia here. That major out there, commanding the canon? That's James Deeran, first in his class at West Point, before Virgina seceeded. The boy over there, with the color guard? That's private Robert Tyler John. His grandfather was President of the United States! That colonel behind me? That's Colonel William Ailen. Now, his great-grandfather was the Virginian Patrick Henry. It was Patrick Henry who said to your King George III; "Give me liberty, or give me death." There are boys here from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Malhamlet, Long James River. From Charlottsville, Fredericksburg, and the Shenondoah Valley. Mostly, they're all veteran soldiers now, the cowards and shirkers are long gone. Every man here knows his duty! They would make this charge even without an officer to lead them. They know the gravity of the situation, and the metal of their foe! They know, that this days work will be desperate and deadly. They know, that for many of them, this will be their last charge. But not one of them, needs to be told, what is expected of him! They're all willing to make the supreme sacrifice. To achieve victory, here, the crowning victory, and the end of this war. We're all hear, Colonel. You may tell them, when you return to your country, that all Virginia was here this day.

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