Gods and Generals (film)
|Gods and Generals|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ronald F. Maxwell|
|Produced by||Moctesuma Esparza
Ted Turner (executive)
|Screenplay by||Ronald F. Maxwell|
|Based on||Gods and Generals
by Jeff Shaara
|Music by||John Frizzell
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
280 minutes (director's cut)
Gods and Generals is a 2003 American period war drama film written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. It is an adaptation of the 1996 novel of the same name by Jeffrey Shaara and prequel to Maxwell's 1993 film Gettysburg. The film stars Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, Jeff Daniels as Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee.
The film centers on the life of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, the God-fearing and militarily brilliant yet eccentric Confederate general, from the outbreak of the American Civil War until its halfway point when Jackson, while on a night ride with his staff to plan the next day's battle, is accidentally shot by his own soldiers in May 1863 while commanding at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It also follows Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Winfield Scott Hancock. Chamberlain is a Maine college professor who is appointed a Lieutenant Colonel and becomes second-in-command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The film prominently features the Battles of Bull Run (1st Manassas), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The film's original running time clocked in at nearly 6 hours (much like the original running time of Gettysburg). The longer version featured the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) as well as an entire plot following the American actor and future assassin John Wilkes Booth and his colleague Henry Harrison (from Gettysburg).
This film opens with Colonel Robert E. Lee's resignation from the Union Army, accompanied by the perspectives of various politicians, teachers, and soldiers as the south secedes from the Union and both sides prepare for war. Major Jackson, who is a professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington at the outset of the war, leaves his family behind to do battle at Manassas Junction. Jackson is asked by a retreating General Barnard Bee for assistance against the Federal army who is pursuing them after a brief stand on Matthews Hill. In rallying his shaken troops, Bee launches the name of Stonewall into history and the Confederates rout the Federals at Henry House Hill. Jackson maintains steadfast discipline in his ranks during the battle despite suffering a wound to his left hand from a spent ball.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain makes his transition from teacher to military officer and practices drilling his soldiers, and is taught military tactics by Col. Adelbert Ames, the commander of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He is called to battle at the Union invasion of Fredericksburg. The southern forces lead a fighting retreat as the Union army crosses the river and storms the town, and there are scenes of the subsequent looting of Fredricksburg by the Union Army. Outside the city, Lee, Longstreet and Jackson have prepared an elaborate defense on Marye's Heights outside the town, and the movie focuses on Confederate defenses behind a formidable stone wall. Several Union brigades, including the Irish Brigade, attempt to cross an open field and attack the wall, but are thrown back with heavy losses by confederate rifle and artillery fire. At one point, two Irish units are forced into battle against one another, to the anguish of a southern Irishman who believes he is killing his kin. Chamberlain leads an unsuccessful attack against Jackson's defenses, led by Brig. Gen. Armistead and finds his unit pinned down in the open field. He survives by shielding himself with a corpse until nightfall; eventually he and surviving members of 20th Maine are ordered to retreat and spend 2 nights in the field on the battlefield, sleeping with the dead. Chamberlain and the defeated Union soldiers depart Fredericksburg. Jackson and Lee return to the city, and Lee is confronted by an angry senior citizen whose house has been destroyed by Union artillery.
Jackson spends the rest of the winter at a local plantation, where he contracts a friendship with a little girl who lives there. Later, Jackson discovers the child has died from scarlet fever and he begins to cry. A soldier asks why he weeps for this child but not for the thousands of dead soldiers, and another soldier states that Jackson is weeping for everyone. Jackson is soon reunited with his wife and newborn child just before the battle of Chancellorsville.
Outside Chancellorsville, Lee identifies that the southern army faces an opposing force almost twice their size. Jackson calls upon his chaplain, Beverly Tucker Lacy who knows the area, and asks him to find a route by which the southern forces can infiltrate in secret. Jackson then leads his forces in a surprise attack on an unprepared Union 11th Corps. Although his men initially rout the opponents, they quickly become confused in the melee, and Jackson's attack is stalled - While scouting a path at night, Jackson is caught in no-mans-land between the 2 armies and badly wounded by his own men, who had mistaken him and his staff for Union cavalry counterattacking. During his evacuation, his litter bearers are targeted by artillery and drop Jackson on the ground. He is then taken to a field hospital where his arm is amputated. Lee remarks that while Jackson has lost his left arm, he (Lee) has lost his right. Jackson dies shortly after, of pneumonia he had contracted during recovery. The film concludes with a scene showing Jackson's body being returned to Lexington, Virginia, accompanied by VMI Cadets and covered by the new confederate national flag, just recently adopted, followed by text explaining that shortly thereafter, emboldened by their victory at Chancellorsville, Lee decided to take the Army of Northern Virginia and march on an invasion of the north, through Pennsylvania - a journey which would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Kali Rocha as Anna Jackson
- Donzaleigh Abernathy as Martha
- Karen Hochstetter as Roberta Corbin
- Christie Lynn Smith as Catherine Corbin
Ted Turner has a cameo in the film as Colonel Waller T. Patton. Colonel Patton, the great uncle of George S. Patton, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg, a scene depicted in the movie Gettysburg. United States Senators George Allen (R-Virginia) and Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) also have cameo roles, both playing Confederate officers, Phil Gramm (R-Texas) appears as a member of the Virginia Legislature early in the film and Congressman Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) also appeared as an Irish Brigade officer. Most of the extras were American Civil War reenactors, who provided their own equipment and worked without pay. In exchange, Ted Turner agreed to donate $500,000 to Civil War battlefield preservation.
The movie was filmed in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, western Maryland and in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Actual historic locations in the film include Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University, known as Washington College during the Civil War.
Russell Crowe was the original choice to play Stonewall Jackson, but scheduling conflicts prevented his availability in the summer and fall of 2001 when the movie was filmed. Stephen Lang had begun to reprise his role as George Pickett, but instead was asked to fill in the role of Jackson. Billy Campbell, who had played a 44th New York lieutenant in Gettysburg was called in to hastily replace Lang in the role of Pickett. Although Tom Berenger desired to reprise his Gettysburg role as James Longstreet (which he called his favorite role) he was unavailable because of scheduling difficulties. Bruce Boxleitner was instead cast in the role. Darius N. Couch was portrayed by actor Carsten Norgaard. Martin Sheen was prevented from reprising his role as Lee due to contractual obligations to The West Wing.
During post-production, Maxwell, Warner Bros. executives and Turner debated on whether to release the film as two parts over two years or as a single film. Maxwell decided to focus on Stonewall Jackson's history in one film.
Among the footage edited includes a sub-plot which follows John Wilkes Booth, the famous actor who would eventually assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. One scene towards the end of the extended cut of the film features Chamberlain and his wife, Fanny, attending a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which Booth plays Brutus. Chamberlain and his wife have a conversation with Booth and his fellow actors following the end of the play. Another scene cut from the film features a performance in Washington, D.C. in which Booth plays the role of Macbeth, which is being seen by President Lincoln. When he gives the famous "dagger of the mind" soliloquy, he looks directly at Lincoln while reciting it. Later, when Booth is offered the chance to meet with Lincoln, he refuses.
A sequence dealing with the Battle of Antietam was removed from the film. The battle was seen mostly from the perspectives of Jackson (who played a major strategic role in the battle) and Chamberlain (whose brigade was held in reserve). In the Director's Cut the entire sequence at Antietam is shown; the Antietam battle scenes mostly depict the fighting in Miller's Cornfield, where soldiers from the opposite sides fired at each other from just a few meters away.
In 2003, the film score was composed by John Frizzell, with some minor contributions by Randy Edelman, who composed the score for the previous Gettysburg. The soundtrack is notable for containing a new song commissioned for the movie and written and performed by Bob Dylan, Cross the Green Mountain. The track was later included on the compilation album The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.
Gods and Generals received generally poor reviews from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes listing only an 8% approval rating, and Metacritic.com listing a 30% approval rating. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a negative review, awarding it 1.5 stars out of a maximum of 4, saying that it was the kind of film Trent Lott would enjoy, referring to the latter's positive comments regarding segregationist Strom Thurmond the previous year. Ebert had previously reviewed Gods and Generals' indirect predecessor, the 1993 film Gettysburg, and gave that film a favorable review.
Author Jeff Shaara originally liked the movie but his opinion has since changed on it by stating "It’s enormously different, it’s radically different from the film. There are characters in the film that do not exist in the book, and a great many characters in the book that never made it to the film. It’s just an entirely different story, and I have to tell you, I’ve heard from literally thousands of people through my website, and I get emails every day and try to be as accessible as I can, and the overwhelming percentage of those that wrote me said, “How could you let them butcher your book like that?” I have no answer to that because I had no control or power to change what came up on the screen."
- Robert Duvall claimed that he is related to Robert E. Lee on his mother's side of the family (Interview on CNN, February 15, 2003).
- Wertz, Jay (December 27, 2011). "Ron Maxwell Interview - 'Gods and Generals' Extended Directors Cut". Historynet. Weider Media Group. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
- "In Depth with Jeff Shaara". In Depth with Jeff Shaara. C-Span. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
- Caggiano, Greg. "Interview with Best-Selling Author Jeff Shaara". Reel to Real. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
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