An epic, sweeping and fact-faithful vision of the turning point of America's
appalling 4-year Civil War. Far from being a one-sided affair where the
economically superior Federals crushed a rebellion by the impoverished
Southern states, this film demonstrates exactly how close General Robert
E Lee's forces came to victory, and altering the whole course of history.
This is a drawn out affair - originally shown on US television in episodes.
The duration allows the stage to be realized atmospherically, and the
various commanding officers introduced.
When battle does commence, tactics remain lodged at the Napoleonic stage:
mass infantry charges across open ground. Defensive firepower, however,
has improved considerably: Gettysburg becomes the resting place for tens
of thousands of young Americans.
The leading players are well cast, and some even bear striking resemblances
to their historical models. Lee was the dynamic and forthright Southern
commander. Martin Shaw captures the essence of the leader: a painstaking
believer in duty, but a man who personally feels the desperate infantry
casualties, and who understands that he went through military academy
with many of his opposite numbers.
Tom Berenger is gruffly solid as General Longstreet, the brilliant
Confederate tactician who urges caution, even as Lee plans outright victory.
On the Northern side, Jeff Daniels gives his schoolteacher-turned-officer
calm dignity, coupled with a daring streak.
Actual events are presented in dramatized form. While everyone knows the
North prevailed on the day, the attention to detail and the characterization
give the story its dramatic purpose and drive. The main Confederate assault
signaling the final day of hostilities is a stirring picture of the nobility
and, ultimately, pointlessness of war.
In every aspect - scenery, uniforms, campsite layouts, equipment, drilling
of thousands-strong ranks of men, right down to how individuals on either
side view their situations - Gettysburg is a vivid portrayal of a
By dwelling on the hopes and despair of the officers who have close friends
and relations in the enemy ranks, the nightmare of a Civil War is rammed
home with depth and poignancy.
While all the lead characters are based on actual officers, we get no insight
into the mindset of the actual foot soldiers facing musket balls across
Saving Private Ryan has created a whole new blueprint for the visceral
savagery of war. Somehow a direct artillery hit causing a few men to
stumble to the ground becomes quaintly anachronistic.
The combination of strong characters and attention to period detail creates
a visually stunning portrait of a defining moment in American history.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming