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GODS AND GENERALS

War may be Hell, but in this three-and-a-half-hour Civil War epic from Ronald Maxwell, the syrupy monologues and righteous Bible thumping provide the punishment. To its credit, Gods and Generals doesn’t leave you battle-weary, and the large-scale re-enactments and period sets (minus some cheesy CGI effects) impress throughout. The film’s biggest shortcoming is its murky historical revisionism. Based on the novel by Jeff Shaara, this prequel to Gettysburg (which was based on The Killer Angels, by Shaara’s late father, Michael) paints the North-South conflict as a blood feud between Maine and Virginia, and it advances the dubious notion that a desire to liberate the slaves was widespread among Southern leaders. Maxwell charts the early years of the war through the exploits of Confederate strategist Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who as played by Stephen Lang lifts the film above the herky-jerky direction (Maxwell helmed Gettysburg with a much steadier hand). Jeff Daniels returns as Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and Robert Duvall picks up a paycheck as General Robert E. Lee. It all makes for high drama, but if you want the real thing, defer to Ken Burns’s superb (11-hour) documentary. (210 minutes)

BY TOM MEEK

Issue Date: February 20 - 27, 2003
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