Black Civil War soldiers receive fitting tribute in Glory
Directed by Edward Zwick.
Based on a novel by Fay Weldon.
Starring Matthew Broderick,
Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes,
and Morgan Freeman.
Now playing at Loews Theaters.
By MICHELLE P. PERRY
THE CIVIL WAR is the bloodiest war in the history of the United States, and countless books, movies, and television miniseries have told the story of brave white men fighting to free the slaves. What has been neglected is the fact that thousands of black soldiers also fought in the Civil War. The film Glory seeks to rectify this omission and to honor the black men who gave their lives for freedom.
Glory is the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War. Kevin Jarre's screenplay is based on two historical novels and the letters of the regiment's commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, is the only non-fictional character in the film. It is Broderick's most mature and challenging role to date, and is the first opportunity he has had to play a character his own age.
Shaw has been raised to have a progressive attitude towards blacks. However, his position of authority as regimental commander forces him to behave in a manner which could be mistaken for coldness and
contempt towards the blacks under his command. For example, a second-generation free black who is a life-long friend of Shaw enlists in the 54th. Shaw is forced to treat him as he would any other enlisted man, which means that his friend needs to request permission in advance to speak to Shaw. Broderick plays this dual nature of the role very well, and the audience never loses sight of the true self beneath the commander's exterior.
Denzel Washington plays Trip, a runaway slave who joins the 54th. His performance is a masterpiece of barely controlled energy and emotional intensity. Trip undergoes the most dramatic growth in the film, from a bitter, resentful troublemaker to the standard bearer of the regiment. The scene in which Trip is whipped for desertion is the most moving moment of the film, and Washington's performance during that scene alone should earn him an Academy Award nomination.
Despite the fact that Matthew Broderick has top billing, it is Denzel Washington who is truly the star of this film. This is not because Washington has as much screen time as Broderick. It is simply the sheer power of Washington's performance that makes him stand out.
The rest of the talented cast includes Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as a friend and fellow officer of Shaw's,
Morgan Freeman (Lean on Me) as a former gravedigger who rises to the rank of sergeant major, Jihmi Kennedy as a crack shot backwoodsman, and Andre Braugher as Shaw's intellectual friend who signs up as his first recruit.
James Horner's score is an integral part of the film. Its sweeping emotionalism effectively mimics and enhances the emotions brought forth by events as they take place.
The battle scenes are unforgettably staged and filmed, especially the final conflict. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the film is a bit too closed in, almost as if it were heading straight for television.
Some criticism has been directed at Zwick because of the emphasis placed on the white characters in the story. A quick glance at Glory may reveal it to fit into the mold of recent anti-apartheid films, which portray blacks fighting under the guidance of white mentors. However, Glory is not about white officers in charge of a black regiment. It is about a group of black men who are training for combat and the interaction of white soldiers and black soldiers as they struggle towards a common goal.
The heroic actions of the 54th Regiment helped undermine the North's resistance to black soldiers. Eventually a total of over 180,000 blacks enlisted. Glory is a fitting tribute to these men.