Gods and Generals

By Andrew Ross

In case the rest of this review is in any way ambiguous, I wish to make it clear that this film should be avoided if at all possible. Of all the things that can be said of Gods and Generals, the most important is that you can never get those four hours back.

This Ted Turner revisionist telling of the Civil War features an admirable performance by Jeff Daniels as the token Union officer. He conveys everything that has to be said about the Civil War, a stunning accomplishment considering his 15 minutes of screen time. In stark contrast, about two and a half hours of screen time are dedicated to Southern General Stonewall Jackson (played by Stephen Lang). This consists of: one hour of Jackson praying (at various times, and with various people); 45 minutes of battle-related dialogue; and, in classic “Good ol’ Boy” fashion, 45 minutes of glorifying the South and ranting about “The Cause.” The ranting, oddly enough, has a decidedly socialist twist (apart from the frequent references to God).

But don’t get the wrong impression and think this film is all about glorifying the South–it’s also about demonizing Abraham Lincoln, downplaying slavery and discrimination, and a somewhat bizarre salute to the Irish. And really, it doesn’t totally glorify the South per se; it just glorifies Virginia (and Texas a little bit). In fact, it would be easy for someone who didn’t know anything about the Civil War to get the impression that it was a fight between Maine and Virginia.

Of course, it is impossible to make a Civil War movie without at least one token black person. Gods and Generals has two.

In addition to splurging on a second black person, the movie also appears to have used the cutting edge in 1950s visual effects technology. That’s right–clouds of smoke followed by men falling down. This was perhaps the greatest disappointment of all, as the Civil War was one of the bloodiest conflicts of its period, with staggering casualty rates on both sides. Not that anyone could have guessed it from watching this film, which had about as much blood and gore as The Lion King.

Gods and Generals has the overall feel of a TBS movie-of-the-week, which is hardly surprising considering it was bankrolled by Ted Turner. There is a happy ending to the tale, though: apparently, Ted made the investment in happier financial times, and now actually needs to make a return on the investment. He won’t.

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