Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Civil War movies that didn't make the Top 5

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
There's no denying that D.W. Griffith was a genius at filmmaking. Compare this three-hour 1915 epic war film other "moving pictures" from that era and it becomes clear that Griffith was way ahead of his time.

Being the son of a Confederate general, it's understandable that Griffith would have naturally been sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan in their guerrilla war against Union occupation troops. The film shows US troops burning cities and black troops raping and pillaging Southern towns, and this is actually historically accurate. That situation is similar to the insurgent groups in Iraq; take a group of uneducated people who have been brutally oppressed for decades, arm them, and turn them loose and (surprise!) they're going to run wild.

However, portraying the Klansmen as noble heroes fighting for the purity of Southern women is little more than a charade. Any moral high ground the KKK had in their fight against Union occupation troops evaporated once the Klan began a campaign of terror against black civilians. Countless black Americans were tortured or murdered for such heinous offenses as VOTING. As for the final segment of the film... No, just no.

Lincoln (2013)

Let me start off by saying that there is a difference between entertainment and ideology. I'm able to enjoy a well-made movie even if I disagree with it. Just because I'm libertarian and believed the Union in the Civil War was the moral equivalent to the British in the Revolutionary War doesn't mean I didn't enjoy Lincoln. Hell, Jeffrey Tucker has written and spoken positively about Warren Beatty's movie Reds (which I also enjoyed) even though he's not a communist (nor am I).

Steven Spielberg made a great flick which I enjoyed because it brought to the screen an era that's awfully hard to imagine today. Daniel Day-Lewis is an amazing actor and really brought to life the man from the paintings. My favorite actor in the whole film was Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens: "I'm a Republican. And you are... a Democrat? Good God, man, are you wicked?"

This film didn't make the Top 5 because it was more about politics in Washington than about Lincoln being an effective Commander-in-Chief. While I did appreciate that the film was honest about Lincoln's lukewarm attitude toward black Americans, I wasn't fond of the way the US cabinet members were portrayed as heroes and the Confederate cabinet members like sleazy used car salesmen.

Gods and Generals (2003)
The prequel to Gettysburg is notorious for being a ridiculously long movie (in the neighborhood of three and a half hours, theatrical version). The movie received lukewarm reviews for being awfully confused, with too much back story and too many historical events packed into one film. This isn't due to the director, but rather to bad editing at the behest of the studio. Check out the extended director's cut on Blu Ray (five hours long) and the movie has a much better flow and makes a hell of a lot more sense.

Like Gettysburg (made ten years earlier by the same director), Gods and Generals is fair and balanced and presents both sides' cause for fighting. Despite this film being one of my favorites, I chose Gettysburg for the Top 5 because it does much the same as the prequel and is easier for viewers to digest.

Ride With the Devil (1999)
This was a decent film, though far from the best of Civil War movies. Still, I'm incredibly glad this movie was made because there are few others that portray guerrilla warfare in the Civil War, much less in the far western theater of Missouri and Kansas. On one side of the coin I feel that all of Ang Lee's movies are slow paced and this one was underwhelming. I also think Jonathan Rhys-Meyers would have made a much better leading man than Toby Maguire. Who else can play both Elvis Presley and Henry VIII?

On the flip side, I appreciate that the movie portrays atrocities by both sides, as well as the prominence of a black volunteer in the Confederate guerrilla band. However, I think The Outlaw Josey Wales did a much better job of spotlighting Civil War guerrillas and smashing the myth of the all-white Confederate military.

The Last Confederate (2007)
I very much like this movie and what it has to offer. Though it follows the hero through the thick and thin of combat and being a prisoner of war, it's primarily a love story. This movie is based on a true story and it's freaking cool that the leading man and lady are actual descendants of the lovers portrayed in the film. Despite all its strong points, the movie zeros in on the star-crossed lovers rather than trying to capture the "big picture." Still, it's definitely worth seeing!

Copperhead (2013)
From the same director as Gods and Generals and Gettysburg, Copperhead is a movie that delivers. It was refreshing to see a movie about the anti-war movement on the home front and is certainly worth seeing. I especially love how the film ties anti-war paleoconservatism to the Constitution and Biblical Christianity. While the message of the movie is powerful, Shenandoah was a much more heart wrenching movie (and epic), thus bumping Copperhead from the Top 5.

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All movie posters used here are the property of their respective film studios. The images were obtained from Wikipedia and are presented here according to Fair Use law.

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