Directed By: Edward Zwick
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes
Tag line: "Their innocence. Their heritage. Their lives. Nothing would be spared in the fight for their freedom."
Trivia: Matthew Broderick is believed to be a distant relative of Robert Gould Shaw, the character he plays
Edward Zwick’s 1989 film, Glory, tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first all-black infantry regiments raised during the Civil War, following it from its inception in March 1863 to the day it led an assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate stronghold in Charleston, South Carolina.
Under the command of Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the 54th stands ready to prove that black soldiers are every bit as talented as their white counterparts. Yet before they’re given an opportunity to fight the Rebels, Shaw and his men find themselves squaring off against the bigotry in their own Army, which denies them necessary equipment and even pays them at a reduced wage (as a form of protest, both the troops and officers of the 54th refuse their pay packets). After spending much of their time performing manual labor, the 54th is finally ordered to lead the charge on Fort Wagner, setting the stage for what would become the regiment’s costliest, and most heroic, battle.
First and foremost, Glory contains a number of strong performances. Having spent the majority of the ‘80s appearing in comedies (including the title character in the wildly popular Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Broderick rounded out the decade with a very convincing dramatic turn as Shaw, the officer determined to show what his men are capable of, regardless of the cost. Cary Elwes plays Shaw’s good friend and second-in-command, Maj. Forbes, and is equally as impressive, sharing Shaw’s determination while occasionally acting as his conscience, reeling the Colonel in when his zeal gets the better of him. As for the soldiers who make up the bulk of the 54th, the standouts are Andre Braugher as Thomas Searles, a black man raised in white society who has a hard time fitting in; Morgan Freeman as Rawlins, the former gravedigger awarded the rank of Sergeant for his exemplary service; and Denzel Washington as Pvt. Trip, the angry soldier who sees no future for himself or his people, regardless of which side wins the war. For his performance, Washington won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, an honor he certainly deserved.
But this quintet of fine actors isn’t the only thing Glory has going for it; the score, written by James Horner and featuring the Boys Choir of Harlem, is just about perfect, and the final assault on Fort Wagner is among the most inspiring battle sequences ever committed to film. Each of these elements, combined with the extraordinary camerawork of Freddie Francis, does its part to make Glory one of the finest Civil War-era motion pictures that Hollywood has to offer.