At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Glory “89”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Drama/Stars: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Jihmi Kennedy, Cliff De Young, Alan North, John Finn, Bob Gunton, Jay O. Sanders, Raymond St. Jacques, Richard Riehle/ Runtime: 122 minutes

I feel it is safe to start this review off by saying that if an individual chooses to call the movie Glory a “war movie” that they really need to take the time to actually see the movie. Indeed this is because while it is quite valid that this film is set in that notorious bloodbath known as the American Civil War and, to be fair, it does have some truly realistic sequences of combat, some quite faithfully recreated uniforms and weapons, and is a viewing experience that serves as a kind of introduction to the majority of those who watch it to the important and quite understated role that African-American soldiers played whilst fighting for the Union army. Yet I think you should know that this film is way more than just those things. Indeed this is because Glory also deserves notice for finally giving the spotlight to a part of American history that many, quite tragically, tend to either forget about or overlook entirely. Indeed while there thousands of young white men who laid down their lives for the Union in battles from Antietam to Gettysburg, Union leaders were initially quite hesitant to give black men an opportunity to fight for a wide variety of “reasons” ranging from no combat experience all the way to deep seated prejudice and racial tension amongst the white soldiers in regards to such an idea yet at long last it finally did occur with one such regiment being the 54th from Massachusetts. Indeed while, in all fairness, the 54th from the state of Massachusetts was not the very first black regiment that was raised, nor was it the very first to be given the opportunity to actually fight in the Civil War, but it was, in my opinion, the most significant. This is because, following its brave and valiant leading the charge on Fort Wagner, even the most racist and prejudiced of Anglo-Saxon politicians out there found themselves having to, however begrudgingly, acknowledge that black men were just as good of soldiers as white men were. Thus by the end of the American Civil War, over 100,000 black men were in a soldier’s uniform, and in fact, it was black troops that were among the first troops to enter the city of Richmond following its conquest by the Union in April of 1865. Thus Glory then is a film that is an absolutely phenomenal tribute. Not only to the brave and inspiring men of the 54th both white and black alike, but to every single soldier who at some point in time has gone the distance and managed to prove that they are too worthy. Not only to be called a soldier, but to be called a man plain and simple.

The plot is as follows: Glory tells the story of a young man by the name of Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw, when our story opens, is a 23-year-old U.S. Army Captain and survivor of the Battle of Antietam who, upon returning home, accepts an appointment from the governor of Massachusetts to be the leader of a unit known as the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. A unit that has the added distinction of being one of the first units to be made up entirely, with the exception of commissioned officers, of black soldiers. Thus with his new posting affording him the rank of Colonel, we soon that Shaw has quite the group of truly eager yet horrifically unskilled individuals that are determined to fight under him and for the Union. Several of these men include Shaw’s longtime friend Thomas, a levelheaded man named John Rawlins, a cynical yet smooth-talker known as Trip, and the loyal to a t yet equally as incredible with a gun Jupiter Sharts. Thus with the aid of his dear friend Major Cabot Forbes as well as a tough-around-the-edges Irish d.i. by the name of Mulcahy, the regiment manages to become both highly skilled and extremely well disciplined. Yet despite this accomplishment, the regiment still find themselves, unfortunately due to both politics and prejudice in equal measure, denied the very things that they are needed to do their duties as well as any other soldier. Yet we soon that the perseverance of their commanding officer and his leadership, and their own strength both on the inside and outside will eventually result in them not only getting the opportunity to not only engage the enemy, and proving they are worthy to be called both soldiers as well as men, but also to enter the history books and inspire those who read or hear about them forever more….

Now from a thematic point of view, this movie is an absolute success despite the presence of certain plot points that arise which layer this film with a veil of tragedy. Indeed this is a film which utilizes that tragedy to really showcase not only the plight of prejudice and the courage and heroics of the men and what they stand for, but to also strengthen the brotherhood that develops between the men by movie’s end. A brotherhood that showcases how the color of a man’s skin or the circumstances he comes from ultimately aren’t half as important as the trust, loyalty, and belief he puts in both others as well as the greater cause of which they are a part. Yet be they found at the end of a whip or whilst facing insurmountable odds against an enemy fort, I feel that the more painful and sad moments that this film manages to possess also, in some weird way, also manage to strengthen the more uplifting concepts on display of both courage and equality. Thus we see that this film is not one which gives away to artificial drama, but instead is able to present itself as a both truthful yet also heartfelt look at genuine heroics from a group of valiant warriors in a world that seemed to exist only to not give these men the very chance to valiantly go into combat, and should it come to that, die in the name of equality and liberty. Not just for them, but for all people, both men and women, all over the country.

Thus it is important to know then that the main goal of Glory is not to entertain movie goers, educate movie goers, or even preach to movie goers. Instead this movie is meant to tell you a heartfelt and yet also quite crucial narrative that showcases a valuable part of American history. More than that however, this is a film which seeks to encourage those who watch it to learn a thing or 3 about just how crucial honesty, bravery, and the bond of brotherhood can be when facing any obstacle that we may find ourselves facing. Indeed this is a film which chooses to show just how powerful some of the core yet also positive human elements can be when put towards winning. Not exactly winning the day mind you, but winning by ultimately influencing and leading by example and thus inspiring others to follow in your footsteps. I mean the men that made up the 54th Massachusetts regiment are known not exactly for the color of the skin on their bodies, but instead because they were brave, and because they were able to come together in pursuit of something greater and because their urge to achieve that greatness was so powerful that they were willing to face the enemy head-on in order to acquire it. Indeed it doesn’t matter what color they are or even if they live or die. Instead it is their comprehension of basic human qualities, of their heartfelt desire to do what was right for the many instead of the few, and for their unfaltering and admirable showcase of spirit that are what the annals of history remembers about this dynamic group. Indeed it is in those aspects then that this film manages to truly soar. This is because it manages not only to show just how superficial the concept of skin color truly is, but it is also willing to dive deeper and show us just what each of these men were fighting for. Men who went into this as individuals, but by the end fought as a band of brothers that to this day makes up a narrative that is still just as heartfelt and crucial as ever.

Now in order to really bring the movie and all that it stands for so vividly to life is a quartet of truly remarkable lead performances in front of the camera as well. This of course starts with Matthew Broderick as Col. Shaw. Indeed there has already been sufficient mention by multiple other reviewers of both Broderick’s age and acting in this film. Yet in my opinion I feel like he was absolutely the best choice for this particular role. For one thing he actually has quite the uncanny, to the point that it’s almost spooky, resemblance to the real-life Col. Shaw, but he also was only 4 years off from how old Shaw was when he took command of the 54th. As for his acting in this, I feel that Broderick manages to portray Shaw extremely well and not in a way that is either understated or over the top in any way. Indeed Broderick manages to wonderfully showcase a young man who, through leading these men, not only learns what it takes to lead, but what it means to be a man period. We also get dependably wonderful work from Morgan Freeman as Rawlins. Indeed Freeman in this manages to give us a character who is very much the paternal figure that this regiment so badly needs and honestly who better for that than Morgan Freeman? We also get wonderful work from character actors Andre Braugher and Cary Elwes in their roles of Thomas and Major Forbes respectively. Yet all of these still manage to slightly wilter next to Denzel Washington’s mesmerizing turn here as Pvt. Trip. Indeed in this role, Denzel manages to put on an acting showcase by giving us a character that, ultimately, comes to represent the best that the regiment stands for. Indeed during the film we see his character go from a man who hides from who he used to be and the things that haunt him by taunting his fellow soldiers to one who has come to comprehend just what honor and responsibility represent, but who is still not completely positive that he can truly accept that and yet who, by film’s end, has come into his own and become the very personification of what true courage and honor looks like. Indeed on of the finest moments in the film isn’t one of conflict or one that deals with a big moment. Rather it is a small moment where you see Private Trip steady a shaky and fearful Private Thomas mere moments before the 54th is to make their assault on a fortified enemy fort. Indeed it is in this small moment that we finally see the transformation of Trip marking his final turning point from a bitterly cynical childish man into an honorable and loyal brother-in-arms ready to both fight alongside and be there for the man next to him whatever the cost. Suffice it to say then that Denzel is both emotional and electrifying in this in equal measure, and with an actor of his caliber, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The film also features several standout performances among the supporting cast as well including memorable work from Bob Gunton, Cliff De Young, and Richard Riehle. Last, but certainly not least, is a character that is always heard, but never seen. I am of course talking about the absolutely fantastic musical score composed by James Horner. Indeed by mixing together both a military-style refrain alongside some truly heavenly inspired notes, the score manages to fully encapsulate just what the film is trying to convey and really just makes the film seem that much more complete than it could ever hope to be without it.

All in all it is my belief that the real definition of what it takes to be a true “hero” is one that can be found within the heart of any man who will willingly face any adversary even death itself in order not only to show he is a true man to himself and to others, but to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves because it is what is right and what is true. Indeed I feel that this is true for every individual be they black or white who found himself a part of the courageous yet also groundbreaking in many respects regiment that is the focus of this film. Indeed these men didn’t just lay down their lives for their country or to be treated equally, but also for their own individual honor and dignity. A dignity that everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed are deserving of since we are endowed with it from the moment that we are born, but which must not be cast into doubt for as long as mankind exists on this or any other world. Thus in my heart I feel that this isn’t a narrative about a man or a group of men, but instead it is about, at its core, the very basic idea of not only just what it means to be a man, but also how sometimes for a man to either become or prove that they are one they have to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that although not many are willing to make, is one that has the potential to turn those that do make it into icons to aspire to and legends to remember forever. On a scale of 1-5 I proudly and emotionally give Glory a solid 4 out of 5.