directed by Edward Zwick
(TriStar, 1989)

Some folks had a greater stake in the Civil War than others. Glory lives up to its name by resurrecting for the screen the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, the Union's first black infantry unit.

Organized, it seems, more as a publicity stunt than a serious attempt to bolster the troops, the regiment performed astonishingly well and inspired blacks in large numbers to join the Union cause.

Matthew Broderick fits nicely in the role of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the young officer given command of the raw troops. Broderick blends the arrogance of command with a palpable awareness of his own inexperience. At the same time, he must face down the prejudice among his own peers in the military hierarchy. None is so shocking as Col. Montgomery (Cliff DeYoung), who despises his own poorly trained black troops as he uses them to loot southern mansions.

At his side is Maj. Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes). He's less of a leader, although at times more compassionate of the men. John Finn is the Irishman Sgt. Maj. Mulcahy, who trains the troops with a fierce determination despite his blatant bigotry.

The black troops show a great deal of pride in their new standing, determined to fight at all costs. The movie captures a touching mixture of emotions, from their resentment when offered less pay than their white counterparts to their glee at receiving the long-awaited blue uniforms and their joyful faith on the eve of hopeless battle.

Foremost among them is Morgan Freeman as John Rawlins, the first black man raised to the rank of sergeant major, who proves again and again his leadership. Andre Braugher is Pvt. Thomas Searles, an educated northern black who joins eagerly; he's bold of spirit but inept at soldiering. Thomas Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy) is a shy, stuttering man, meek but valiant and a fine shot.

Denzel Washington earned an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor as Pvt. Trip, a former slave who doesn't take well to the Army's regulations. One of the most powerful pre-battle scenes comes when Trip is flogged for leaving camp; his shirt is stripped to show a back already laced with scars from slavers' whips.

There is little to compare to the utter valor of these men in the final scene, a battle of staggering proportions against mighty odds. Full marks to director Edward Zwick, who put his audience right in the midst of the heart-stopping action. The movie pulls no punches when it comes to showing the hardships of war, the horrors of battle and the high cost of bloody conflict.

See this movie. You'll watch the final scenes with your heart in your throat. You will be moved. And inspired.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 13 April 2002

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