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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.22%
Average: 4.08%
Pretty Bad: 1.02%
Total Crap: 3.06%

2 reviews, 86 user ratings

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by Andrew Howe

"Everything its title promises"
5 stars

Released with surprisingly little fanfare, Glory was one of the surprise packages of 1989. It’s a war film which favours characterisation over action, but is by no means a portentous dissertation on the evils of armed conflict. The issues are canvassed via a string of vibrant, accessible scenes, populated by performers who were chosen, not to appease the film’s marketers, but for their suitability for the roles. Thought-provoking and deeply moving, it is not ashamed to tell its tale through events designed to provoke the desired emotional reaction, leaving you no option but to applaud the bravery and mourn the sacrifice of the men of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. It’s not subtle, but the result is a history lesson that breathes life into what amounted to, prior to the film’s release, little more than a footnote in a yellowing textbook.

To bring the tale of the first black regiment to take up arms in the American Civil War to the screen was an act of bravery on the part of everyone concerned, for the commercial appeal of such an undertaking would seem to be decidedly limited. The foresight of those responsible for green-lighting the project, not to mention blessing it with a hefty budget, is nothing less than astounding, especially when you consider that the script was based on two books nobody had ever heard of (in addition to letters penned by the film’s real-life protagonist, who was likewise shrouded in anonymity) and was adapted by a writer whose only credit of note was Rambo II; the director, Edward Zwick, had exactly one film to his name (and that was a romance starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore); and the cast could hardly be described as star-studded (remember that true fame and fortune was still some years off for Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman). I was not privy to the birth of the concept, so perhaps there was some measure of cynicism involved, but if so it’s not apparent from the finished product.

The film’s greatest asset is its performers, not the least the unusual decision to cast Matthew Broderick as Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s Colonel. This was only 3 years after his ascension to teen-idol status in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (though that period of his career was relatively short-lived), and at the time nobody knew that he would prove more than capable of assaying serious roles in the likes of Election. However, it proved to be a masterstroke, for Broderick’s youth rams home the fact that the Civil War commanders were often mere boys, and his unexpectedly-forceful performance, coupled with his natural charm, makes it easy to understand why Shaw’s men eventually come to respect him.

Shaw is torn between duty and his natural urges – most gentrified men his age would be attending balls and “reading Hawthorne by the fire”, as opposed to making decisions which could result in the deaths of those who have placed their faith in his leadership abilities. Having stared death in the face at Antietam, he knows all too well the cost of allowing emotion to cloud his judgement: when he is forced to refuse his old friend Thomas’ heartfelt request to speak to him in private you find it difficult to condone his lack of compassion, but a wonderful scene in which he responds warmly to Thomas’ Christmas greeting proves that his sense of duty has not entirely dispelled the ties of friendship. Broderick’s ability to believably portray both resolve and vulnerability make it work, and his presence is probably the single greatest contributor to the film’s success.

The men of the 54th are represented, for the bulk of the screen time, by four of their number. Jihmi Kennedy turns in a fine performance as Jupiter Sharts, a likeable, earnest soldier who is obviously out of his depth, but possesses an untapped resolve which comes to the fore when he needs it the most. Kennedy’s open features and stuttering vocal delivery are endearing, and Sharts’ charming naivete provides a suitable contrast to Sergeant Rollins’ study in world-weariness. Rollins is a man of advanced years who, in a better world, would have spent his twilight years as a big-hearted benefactor to a swarm of grandchildren, and Morgan Freeman brings his natural screen presence to bear on the role. Freeman’s performances over the last decade have been virtually interchangeable, but you don’t need variety when your stock-in-trade is as memorable as this. He perfectly captures Rollins’ quiet dignity, and his charisma enables him to believably portray the required leadership capabilities (an emotionally-charged scene in whuch he puts Washington’s character in his place leaves little doubt as to his credentials). It’s a role Freeman was born to play, and, with the exception of The Shawshank Redemption, represents the pinnacle of his career to date.

Denzel Washington has received plaudits for many of his performances in the 90’s, but at the time of Glory’s release he was a relative unknown. His character, Trip, is a runaway slave with a major attitude problem, dividing his time between needling his compatriots and questioning the motivations of the white officers. The task presented to Washington was to prevent Trip from losing the viewer’s support, for scenes in which he momentarily drops his guard will only succeed if the actor in question possesses the required range. We know by now that Washington is equally at home with sensitivity and hard-edged resolve, and he conspires to make Trip a flawed but strangely attractive individual. When he tells Shaw that he doesn’t want to bear the regimental colours you know he’s not doing it out of mean-spiritedness, but because he genuinely believes that he’s got nobody to count on but himself, and his eventual admission to his comrades that he views them as the only family he’s got is suffused with an indisputable ring of truth. By the film’s conclusion he has worked his way into the viewer’s heart, and it’s largely down to a masterful performance by Washington, presaging a career which has been something to admire.

Andre Braugher appears to have fallen off the map in the last decade (his most recent paycheque came from a memorable but under-written role in Duets), but with this one performance he ensures that he will never be entirely forgotten. He brings a touching sensitivity to the role of Thomas Searles, an educated free man who assumes the mantle of the regiment’s whipping-boy. Braugher captures Searles’ anguish at leaving behind his respected position to become a source of derision, and in reality he is as alone amongst his comrades as Trip. The script wisely resists the urge to have him become a lean, mean, fighting machine through hard training and a little help from his friends – when the regiment lines up for their first battle he’s still, in Shaw’s words, “not a very good soldier”. This is as it should be, for Searles personifies every man who ever picked up a rifle to fight for what they believed in, and, in the absence of a natural affinity for armed conflict, simply did the best they could. For this he deserves our respect and admiration, and, in a film which does not want for heroes, is perhaps the greatest of them all.

The major players are rounded out by Cary Elwes (Westley from The Princess Bride) as Major Forbes, who is the epitome of a white officer who would rather be carousing than leading the charge. He works well with Broderick, bringing to life a friendship tested by constant disagreements and the fact that Shaw is his superior officer, with the issues clouded by the fact that he cares as much for the men as Shaw does, to the extent that he continuously takes their side at the expense of his long-term friendship. Elwes is probably only suited to a select few roles (his resume to date reveals an affinity for fantasy and historical drama), but, on the strength of his performance here, is deserving of greater exposure.

In traditional war-movie style, the first two-thirds of the film is dedicated to chronicling the regiment’s training. On a purely objective basis, you could argue that this section is a mess of clichés and events calculated to underscore the difficulty the regiment faces in gaining acceptance from the community at large. It is, in fact, exactly that, but it’s so involving, and the performances so memorable, that it’s impossible to complain too loudly. These sequences unashamedly play with the viewer’s emotions – there’s a rabble-rousing episode over pay which will have you adding your own voice to the mob’s defiance (and which is happily defused by the arrival, at that exact moment, of a cart-load of uniforms); a great scene in a quartermaster’s office that proves Broderick’s devotion to his men; the appearance of a hard-nosed Irish drill instructor who works the men into the ground; and a public lashing which will have the majority of the audience in tears. Contrived and manipulative it may be, but I honestly can’t bring myself to care, because these moments provide the kind of emotional impact and immersion I watch films to experience. They also enable the viewer to bond with the characters and gain an investment in the outcome of the coming battles, so even if one were to view the whole affair as, in the words of critic Stephen Hunter, “a deeply wretched exercise” (I couldn’t agree less, but I note that he goes on to praise the film regardless), it’s a necessary evil for a film in which success or failure hinges upon whether the viewer has a personal stake in the fate of the characters.

Once the bayonets are fixed in anger, the film presents us with two highly-charged battle sequences. Edward Zwick is at the helm, and he’s since proved his affinity for this brand of filmmaking with the likes of Legends of the Fall. At the time the film’s depiction of battlefield violence was considered revelatory (it’s since been overshadowed by the likes of Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan), and it still packs a punch, not the least because the viewer genuinely wants the regiment to make it through unscathed. Every man who goes down is a cause for personal sorrow, and the relatively small scale of the initial skirmish rams home the fact that much of the dying during the Civil War occurred not on fields whose names are written in the history books, but in backwoods clearings whose names are long forgotten.

The other aspects of the film’s production are equally memorable – Freddie Francis’ cinematography is gorgeous (the film is largely set outdoors, and features some excellent location work), the costumes are superb, and the score, by James Horner (Braveheart, Tttanic), is one of his best. However, what really nails the film home as a classic is the final twenty minutes, a gut-wrenching, soul-destroying testament to the madness of war, as affecting in its own way as the opening of Saving Private Ryan. It leaves you shattered and desolate, wishing there was some way you could rewrite what you’ve just witnessed, and the courageous and uncompromising final scene is a requiem for everyone who ever laid down their life in the service of a cause worth dying for.

Glory is a powerful, passionate tale which overlays its lessons on the evils of prejudice and inhumanity with heartfelt accounts of friendship, courage, duty, and regret, and exhibits a genuine admiration for those who would value a noble cause above the life and loves they have yet to experience, their hopes and dreams consigned to the depths of an unmarked grave. It’s a tale that needed to be told, and we can be thankful its creators chose to tell it in a manner which ensures it will live long in the memory, crafting one of the greatest films ever made into the bargain.

There is a scene, set before the final battle, in which the soldiers sing songs of praise, and ask God that their deeds be remembered by those who come after. On the strength of this film, it appears that somebody was listening.

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originally posted: 02/20/01 22:03:13
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell awesome & moving 5 stars
5/30/16 Jeff Wilder Probably the best Civil war movie ever. Superb all around. 5 stars
4/14/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
8/13/14 Simon Precedent-setting war film,Zwick's signature grasp of scale,tightly acted narrative. Great. 5 stars
2/22/14 Elvo One of the great films ever 5 stars
9/12/11 Alyssa Wonderful movie, glad I was recommened to watch this by my teacher!! 5 stars
4/09/11 Mike Copeland My grandma took me to this movie when I was 12.Cried like a baby, and still do years later. 5 stars
7/09/10 Steve F. Powerful. One of the best films ever made and what movie-making is all about. 5 stars
4/02/10 Lewis H. Best Movie Of 1989 and best Civil War Movie. From The Opening Scene You Will Witness Magic 5 stars
9/09/09 Danny Saw this one recently; had forgotten how moving it is. So tragic that it really happened. 5 stars
10/01/08 action movie fan goo9d start but soon runs out of steam-typical Zwick misfire 3 stars
3/12/08 Mathew One of the Best movies i have ever seen. Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington are GREAT! 5 stars
12/12/07 James Naughton One of the best films Ive ever seen, the charge on fort wagner will live with me forever. 5 stars
11/20/07 Fuck Ferris Bueller is the man. 5 stars
10/04/07 King H.T. TIGHT; best war movie ever.beat acting by denzel. 5 stars
7/19/07 JoeL A powerful, personal rendition of mans inhumanity to man 4 stars
4/30/07 Harley One of my favorites.Morgan Freeman is the best. 5 stars
4/24/07 kaykay. i really liked this movie. it teaches what happened in an interesting way :] 5 stars
2/23/07 CWwriter The best Civil War movie made; too bad about the ending, but you can't change history. 5 stars
2/22/07 AskTheToughQuestions Glory preserved 1 of, rather the most important lesson in U.S.History.Remember Love... 5 stars
1/30/07 Meghan! Nvr wud watch it if it wernt 4 my flm rvw prjct Glad 2 have stumbled across it. Glorious! 5 stars
1/16/07 poog what a piece of crap movie... its just boring and depressing as hell. worst ending ever. 1 stars
1/09/07 zhao pretty good 4 stars
12/13/06 baby m WOW!!!!! thats all i gotta say is wow, i loved the movie xcept wen matthew dies 5 stars
12/07/06 tejubros great music and powerful moments, shitload of cliches, though 4 stars
11/17/06 abby this movie totally sucked because denzel washingtopn died 1 stars
7/17/06 William Goss Heavy-handed & rousing in equal measure, good performances mixed w/ melodramatic moments. 3 stars
5/19/06 chienne The US Civil war never ceases 2 fascinate me, excellent film 5 stars
5/12/06 SpyV One of the best war movies ever made. Of any period. Powerful and a tear-jerker. 5 stars
4/03/06 Lord Jiggy Touching, valuable, one that everyone should see. 5 stars
3/03/06 Sean Coyle What a powerful experiance... it leaves you with a sense of awe at these men's sacrifices. 5 stars
1/23/06 Kate I thought Matthew Broderick was good, not miscast like some people are saying. 5 stars
8/24/05 Virginia Was a pretty good movie. Denzel was a good actor. 4 stars
8/11/05 ES Wow= what a film 5 stars
8/04/05 neil one of the 2 t greatest films ever made which also includes "the last samurai" 5 stars
8/03/05 ALDO James Horner used to be really awesome 5 stars
6/15/05 Quigley on of the best war films ever made. gotta see this one! 5 stars
8/20/04 John Great music and acting. Immensely powerful, with a real climax. A classic. 5 stars
5/15/04 Read it, Seen it, Done it I really like this movie but Matthew Broderick is all wrong in his role 5 stars
4/30/04 Gray shows history is not clear cut good and bad 5 stars
2/28/04 Kyle "Cold Mountain" sucks! 5 stars
2/18/04 john a bit melodramatic maybe but who cares - it's very good! 4 stars
1/21/04 Elderkinesis not to shabby 5 stars
11/05/03 Buck One of the all-time greatest films. 5 stars
9/21/03 CAT BLUES i loved it touched me when Robert Goldshaw died 5 stars
8/31/03 Kitty Kelso made me burst into tears-BEAUTIFUL!!! 5 stars
3/26/03 Jack Sommersby Rightly regarded as a classic. Extraordinary. 5 stars
1/14/03 john doe great movie 5 stars
10/18/02 Jay The best civil war movie of all-time!!! Good thing Denzel Washington deserved his Oscar!!! 5 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum For those who thought the Civil War was "boring" 5 stars
8/02/02 GOOD most realistic depeiction of the civil war 5 stars
6/25/02 Justin The greatest war movie of all time! Whoever doesn't like it is a faggot! 5 stars
4/27/02 Nicole AWESOME FILM!! 5 stars
3/08/02 Mo Anand This is on my top 5 war movies of all time...A great cast with some classic lines 5 stars
11/01/01 Sally Burnell The "real" story is far more dramatic, but this is still very much a film worth seeing! 5 stars
10/10/01 Butterbean Denzel had me on my feet with his performance. 4 stars
7/03/01 TLsmooth Denzel is fucking amazing. What the fuck? I almost cried. 5 stars
6/10/01 Ramsey Deep, moving and real! Great film. 5 stars
5/27/01 BrainPan Better if they got the fort?!? Go see Gladiator for all you historical innaccuracy needs. 5 stars
4/23/01 Skip Young Maybe I need to see it again, but I don't know what all the fuss is over this. 3 stars
3/15/01 master.node Survives Matthew Broderick. 4 stars
3/07/01 Herman Gustafson One of the top three war films ever 5 stars
3/01/01 John Trent One of the best movies i´ve ever seen 5 stars
1/12/01 Matt Choi It's the Bomb, but it'll be better if the ending is they got the fort. 5 stars
1/06/01 amy gunderson sad and upsetting 4 stars
12/19/00 R.W. Welch Attains a very authentic feel, no plot tricks or hokum. 4 stars
12/13/00 Marie Terrific movie-made me cry at the end and I'm not that type of person to do that. 5 stars
11/28/00 SuperGoden ( One of the best Civil War films out there 5 stars
11/15/00 The EVIL Penguin A Little boring but still one of the greatest 4 stars
11/07/00 Steven Fisher The best war movie ever!!! 5 stars
9/28/00 infinite s one of denzel's best performances and one of the greatest movies ever 5 stars
9/21/00 magoo awesome 5 stars
8/30/00 Eran The music is better than the movie. 2 stars
8/04/00 Stuart Kuramoto By far one of the best films ever made...the ending never fails to move me to tears. 5 stars
6/16/00 Christine This movie was awesome, and breath taking it gave me chills and tears! 5 stars
5/15/00 Ablah Munshi This movie is realy good i think who didn't see it should. 5 stars
5/02/00 master.node MB can usually act. What happened here? + Gratuitous whipping <- must be PC. 3 stars
4/19/00 larry required viewing for all americans 5 stars
4/01/00 Arnaldo Cruz one of my favorites, great direction,great acting,great score and very powerful in general 5 stars
3/15/00 Mic Great war film - many scenes look like inspirations for Saving Private Ryan. 5 stars
2/29/00 Bozo If Denzel deserved Oscar, Braugher deserved at least a nom; Matt badly miscast 4 stars
1/27/00 Katie Cox its breathe-taking 5 stars
11/30/99 Mic The 6-min sequence near the beginning looks like the inspiration for the 25-min in SPR. 5 stars
1/17/99 Melissa Do not miss it. Denzel is fucking amazing. 5 stars
11/10/98 Silent Rob A beautifully powerful film. Connects on MANY levels. Gloriously filmed and acted. 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1990 (R)
  DVD: 02-Jan-2007


  02-Jul-1990 (M)

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