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#155 - Glory (Edward Zwick, 1989)

A powerful anti-war film which also pays great honor to ALL the men who served, died and suffered during the American Civil War, Glory focuses on the African-American experience as seen through the eyes of a somewhat naive young white officer (Matthew Broderick), from a rich family, who agrees to lead the all-black, all-volunteer regiment which actually includes one of his best and smartest friends (Andre Braugher). His second-in-command (Cary Elwes) helps him to whip the men into shape, and that's part of what's significant about the film. All men are created equal. The blacks are not given a free ride and are trained and punished just as anyone would no matter what their race is. True, it's a haunting moment when Denzel Washington's character is whipped for going AWOL to get decent shoes (and it's plain as day that he was similarly whipped by his slavemaster). At the time, Spike Lee, who had made Do the Right Thing the same year, complained that the film was tainted because it was told from a "white boy"'s perspective, even if it was based on a true story and the Broderick's character's diary. Although I love the Spike Lee Joint, I find it a bit ironic that Lee decided that he could use racist whites (and blacks and every other race) to tell his fictional tale but that he bemoans the fact that whites and blacks comingle in a true telling of an American tragedy.

Broderick is extremely affecting as the young officer who matures under fire, and even though Washington received a Best Supporting Oscar, the emotional centerpiece of the film for me is the incredibly-dignified Morgan Freeman character. He's one of the most-respectable and sincere characters in any war movie, but that's what makes Glory a great film; it honors the characters and their almost unbelievably-hopeless situation. Glory is one of those films which regularly gets shown in public schools although it received an R-rating because there are a couple of ultra-violent battle scenes where people's heads explode just like the watermelon in The Day of the Jackal. Those scenes are shocking but fleeting, so I would say that Glory is probably a film which actually deserves the PG-13 rating because I believe it's an important film for parents to watch with their own children. It's not nearly as gory as Saving Private Ryan which I'd show to kids too, but I believe that they should be slightly older than those who watch Glory.

The film is presented elegantly by Zwick. He's able to contrast the rich white families with the poor blacks while still showing how men from extremely different backgrounds can bond together to work for the greater common cause. Slavery and racism are rampant themes in the film but they aren't especially shoved down your throat. The film works mostly because it's based on true characters and those characters basically all agree in what their intentions are and what they have to go through to accomplish them. Another significant part of the film is the wonderful musical score by James Horner, accompanied by the Harlem Boy's Choir. The film is quietly powerful, especially the heart-wrenching finale. If you truly believe that all men are brothers and that some things are worth dying for, it's almost mind-blowing in its simplicity. I think that forgotten screenwriter Kevin Jarre deserves some major credit for the film's success.


Now that I've watched it again, I can tell you a few mistakes I made in my "review" above. First off, Matthew Broderick's tale is not told through his diary but rather by the letters he wrote to his mother. The film begins incredibly intensely at the battle of Antietem where he leads men into what is basically a hopeless charge into a well-defended Confederate position and he's shot in the neck. Frederick Douglas (Raymond St. Jacques) has a small role as a character who advocates the forming of the all-black regiment as a way to promote pride in his race and enable them to take a hands on approach to their recent "emancipation" by President Lincoln in 1863.

There are several rousing scenes involving the blacks not getting shoes and uniforms, their being paid less than a white soldier, and several run-ins with blatant white racists, so perhaps the film is not quite as subtle as I would hope, but as I mentioned before, Do the Right Thing can not be construed to be subtle at all either. One of my fave scenes is near the ending, after the regiment learns that they've been chosen to lead the charge on an incredibly fortified Southern fort along the beach. The night before their suicide mission, the entire regiment gets together around the campfire to pray and sing hymns to their God to give thanks for being able to fight for themselves against injustice. "Oh my Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord... " with plenty of clapping and chanting. I was pretty much crying during the entire film, certainly from the opening scene all the way up to the ending. I could go into more detail about such things as the illiterate stutterer Jihmi Kennedy who's a crack shot to the look on Broderick's face in front of a burning building when he realizes that he and his men have become dupes in a looting spree down South. The "Merry Christmas" exchange between Braugher and Broderick is also very memorable. It all adds up to a powerful experience for any and all watchers of this great American classic.