[box cover]

Glory: Special Edition

Columbia TriStar Home Video

Starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington,
and Morgan Freeman

Written by Kevin Jarre
Directed by Edward Zwick

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters "U.S.," let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States."

— Frederick Douglass

War movies are made for people who already love war movies, and folks who dig war movies come to them expecting to get a heapin' plateful of courage, character, male bonding and coming-of-age, and the tragic heroism of laying one's life down for a cause. Even Hollywood movies that turn a cynical eye towards war — like Paths of Glory, Born on the Fourth of July, and Full Metal Jacket — follow the same formula, and lovers of war movies expect that formula to be followed. Edward Zwick's 1989 film Glory is a stunning example of a Hollywood War Movie and could, in fact, be held up as an example of how good the genre can be. It won three Oscars to prove it — Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actor for Denzel Washington. It is, simply put, a very, very good movie — even if it is tad formulaic.

The film tells the true story of Robert Gould Shaw (Mathew Broderick), a naive, Harvard-educated Bostonian who witnesses the horrifying bloodshed of battle first-hand at the battle of Antietam Creek, in the film’s breathtaking opening sequence. Slightly wounded, after he recovers he's promoted to Colonel and given command of the United States' first regiment of Black soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts. Told from Shaw's point of view (much of the story came from letters Shaw wrote to his family about his experiences), we follow his regiment's preparations for a war they may never be allowed to fight in. The focus is on five soldiers who share one tent: Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), an older, runaway slave who is eventually promoted to Sergeant Major; Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), a free-born Northerner who grew up with Shaw and worked for Shaw's father; Trip (Denzel Washington), another runaway slave; and Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy), an illiterate stutterer from North Carolina. Shaw fights to get his men shoes, uniforms and, finally, into battle: the film ends with the 54th leading the charge on Fort Wagner.

"Thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life" creator Edward Zwick has made his directorial career in features making big, overblown movies that aren't equal to the sum of their parts, like Legends of the Fall, Under Siege, and Courage Under Fire. In Glory, his best film, he manages a perfect balance of soothing his audience with much-loved platitudes about the glory of war while offering up graphic depictions of its many horrors. And Glory is, overall a breathtakingly beautiful film; that cinematography Oscar was well-deserved. When watching Glory's scenes of hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers marching toward certain death ... well, Gladiator was all well and good, but keep in mind that Zwick managed to create his epic battle scenes in 1987 without the help of CGI. On the other hand, his reliance on fog machines and smoke to create ambience is so overdone that one would think that the United States in 1863 was swathed in a perpetual London-like fog (Zwick admits in the director's commentary that he used fog machines to cover the skies when the weather was nice).

The microcosm of Black actors, characters who represent the soldiers, is historically less-than-accurate (the vast majority of Blacks who volunteered to fight for the North were educated, free men, not runaway slaves or fieldhands) but the performances are exemplary. Morgan Freeman as Rawlins is, of course, superb - he's Morgan Freeman, fer Gawd's sake. He has a handful of great scenes in Glory, and speeches that any actor would kill for: for example, when Rawlins is promoted to Sergeant, Trip tells him that he "ain't nothin' but the white man's dog," prompting Freeman to slap him in the face. "And who are you? So full of hate that you have to fight everybody, because you've been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain't dying. And dying's been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now, dying by the thousands — dying for you, fool."

Denzel Washington's turn as Trip is very, very good and certainly deserving of an award — but more impressive still is Andre Braugher, in what was his first film role. As Thomas Searles, a Black man every bit as educated and even more unprepared for harsh realities than the white Shaw, his emotional range as he undergoes the pain and indignities of learning to becoming a soldier are heart-wrenching. The always-underrated Cary Elwes plays Shaw's friend and second-in-command Major Forbes, who starts out as a rich party boy but shows true compassion and strength in his dealings with his regiment.

And speaking of underrated ... how about that Matthew Broderick? Critics were less than kind to Broderick when the film was released, but he's perfectly cast as the callow, wealthy Shaw. In the opening battle sequence we watch him, without the aid of dialogue, traverse a variety of emotions from smug confidence to confusion to outright terror. In the scenes that follow — in particular one funny/gruesome scene where a medic is tending to Shaw's slight neck wound and apologizing for hurting him, as Shaw watches a soldier scream in agony while doctors saw the man's leg off — Broderick displays a subtle change of demeanor from arrogant naivete to disillusioned shell shock to, finally, grown-up resolve. Broderick rarely gets to rise above his usual Ferris Bueller persona, but in Glory he gives a performance that deserved far more praise than he received for it.

Columbia TriStar's two-disc special edition DVD is beautiful — crisp, clean, gorgeously remastered. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is superb, especially during the complicated battle scenes. Dialogue seems slightly flat in places, but overall the sound is terrific. James Horner's score is lovely, if a bit unimaginative. The set offers both the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) ratio and a full-screen pan-and-scan version. Picture-in-picture commentary is a real treat, with Morgan Freeman, Ed Zwick and Matthew Broderick popping in now and then to offer scene-specific background anecdotes; while Zwick is a bit of a stick, Freeman adds a lot of great color (much of it from a historical perspective) and Broderick offers up plenty of insight into what he went through during filming. Three featurettes are offered: "The True Story of Glory Continues," a 45-minute documentary narrated by Freeman, which fleshes out the historical details of the story; "Voices of Glory" is an 11-minute, Ken Burns-ish video with actors reading letters from soldiers of the 54th Regiment; and an original theatrical featurette which offers nothing beyond the usual studio promotional fare. Two deleted scenes are included, one where Trip shoots a young apple picker, thinking he's a Rebel soldier, and another with Forbes telling Shaw that he thinks he can't go on. The first is quite good, and the second is not — Zwick's optional director's commentary tells why he decided not to use them.

— Dawn Taylor

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