Gods and Generals [2003]

The more you know about the 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 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 sanitized PG-13 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, honoring 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

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain:
In the Roman civil war, Julius Caesar knew he had to march on Rome, which no legion was permitted to do. Marcus Lucainius left us a chronicle of what happened. "How swiftly Caesar has smoted the mighty alps and in his mind conceived immense upheavals in the coming war. When he reached the water of the littler Rubicon, clearly to the leader through the murky night appeared a mighty image of his country in distress. Grief in her face, her white hair streaming from her tower crowned head. With tresses torn and shoulders bare, she stood before him and sighing said, "Where further do you march? Where do you take my standards warriors? If lawfully you come, if as citizens, this far only is allowed." Then trembling struck the leader's limbs, his hair grew stiff and weakness checked his progress, holding his feet at the rivers edge. At last he speaks, "Oh Thundere, surveying Rome's walls from the top hay and rock. Oh Fridgy and House gods of Ulysses, Clan and Mystery of Corinth who was carried off to heaven. Oh Jupiter of Latium seated in lofty Alda and House of Vespa. Oh Rome, equal to the highest deity, favor my plans! Not with envious weapons do I pursue you. Here am I, Caesar, your own soldier everywhere. Now too, if I am permitted, the man who makes ME your enemy, it is he who will be the guilty one." Then he broke the barrier of war and through the swollen river swiftly took his standards. Caesar crossed the flood and reached the opposite bank. From Hisparie's Forbidden Fields he took his standards said, "Here I abandoned peace and desecrated law; fortune it is you I follow. Farewell to treaties. From now on war is our judge!" Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!

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