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Gettysburg Movie Review

gen maj col brig

1993 – Ronald F. Maxwell –

Depicting the battle that involved 150,000 soldiers on both sides and left a third of them dead or wounded, Gettysburg is one of the finest epic war films. The pivotal 1863 battle of the American Civil War is wonderfully documented and dramatically presented in true-to-life scenes that range from one-on-one conversational exchanges to panoramic scenes of unforgettable heroic proportions. With more than 100 speaking parts, the movie is based on Michael Shaara's Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels.

While the characters are open to the charge of being stereotypical caricatures, Gettysburg effectively presents the era as a simpler time, when the ideas of virtue and chivalry were very real. War, though brutal, was still fought in terms of what was considered to be gentlemanly conduct. That accuracy of attitude is one of the most refreshing things about Gettysburg. It is simply a movie about a battle and the people caught up in it. The movie covers the four days from June 30 to July 3, 1863. The obligatory wartime scenes of soldiers swearing violently and indulging in sex during furloughs are entirely absent. Gettysburg chooses historical faithfulness over the gratuitous elements of many genre films, and it proves that history can be interesting.

Jeff Daniels plays the philosophical and sensitive Union Col. Lawrence Chamberlain, a commander who leads by compassion and necessity. Martin Sheen portrays Gen. Robert E. Lee and does it more convincingly than one might expect from his impassivity. (Lee was known at West Point as the Marble Man, a quality that is certainly brought to the forefront in Sheen's stoic interpretation.) Richard Jordan, in his last role before dying from a brain tumor, also gives a wonderfully compassionate performance as Confederate General Lewis Armistead.

The visual element in Gettysburg is breathtaking, as the cameras shoot from extremely wide distances for the large battle scenes, such as the assault at Cemetery Ridge made by Pickett's (a dynamic Stephen Lang) brigade on the third day of the battle. The evocative use of light and subtle colors gives at times a mournful, contemplative mood to the film. In addition, a hauntingly beautiful musical theme permeates Gettysburg. Overall, the music along with the lighting creates a powerful picture.

The movie's sense of humanity and drama is always touching. In one scene, Col. Chamberlain, knowing that his men are about out of ammunition and that the Confederates are moving up Little Round Top for their fifth assault, orders a charge down the hill with the command, “Bayonets!”—a blood-curdling order in its implications to both his men and anyone else with a knowledge of military tactics. However, this charge succeeds at repelling the Confederates and saving the Union's left flank. In real life (though not in the movie) Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Cast: Tom Berenger (Lt. Gen. James Longstreet), Martin Sheen (Gen. Robert E. Lee), Stephen Lang (Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett), Richard Jordan (Brig Gen. Lewis A. Armistead), Andrew Prine (Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett), Cooper Huckabee (Henry T. Harrison), Patrick Gorman (Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood), Bo Brinkman (Maj. Walter H. Taylor), James Lancaster (Lt. Col. Arthur Freemantle), William Morgan Sheppard (Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble), Kieran Mulroney (Maj. Gen. Moxley Sorrel), James Patrick Stewart (Col. E. Porter Alexander), Tim Ruddy (Maj. Charles Marshall), Royce D. Applegate (Brig. Gen. James L. Kemper), Ivan Kane (Capt. Thomas J. Goree), Warren Burton (Maj. Gen. Henry Heth), MacIntyre Dixon (Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early), Joseph Fuqua (Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart), Tim Scott (Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell), George Lazenby (Brig. Gen. J. Johnson Pettigrew), Jeff Daniels (Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain), Sam Elliott (Brig. Gen. John Buford), C. Thomas Howell (Lt. Thomas D. Chamberlain), Kevin Conway (Sgt. “Buster” Kilrain), Brian Mallon (Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock), Buck Taylor (Col. Willliam Gamble), John Diehl (Pvt. Bucklin), Josh Mauer (Col. James C. Rice), John Rothman (Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds), Richard Anderson (Maj. Gen. George G. Meade), Bill Campbell (Lt. Pitzer), David Carpenter (Col. Thomas C. Devin), Maxwell Caulfield (Col. Strong Vincent), Donal Logue (Capt. Ellis Spear), Dwier Brown (Capt. Brewer), Herb Mitchell (Sgt. Andrew J. Tozier) Screenwriter: Ronald F. Maxwell Cinematographer: Kees Van Oostrum Composer: Randy Edelman Producer: Moctesuna Esparza and Robert Katz for Mayfair/Turner MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 254 minutes Format: VHS Budget: $25M Box Office: $10M.

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