Friday, January 25, 2013

#893. Glory (1989)

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 its men led the 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 essential as their white counterparts. Yet before they are given a chance to fight, Shaw and his men find themselves squaring off against the bigotry of their own Army, which denies them necessary equipment and even pays them at a reduced wage (in protest, both the troops and officers of the 54th refuse their pay packets). 

After spending an inordinate amount of time doing 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.

Glory features a number of strong performances. Having appeared in several popular '80s comedies (including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Matthew 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 is equally as impressive as Shaw’s good friend and second-in-command Major Forbes, who occasionally acts as Shaw's conscience, reeling the Colonel in whenever his zeal gets the better of him. 

As for the soldiers who make up the 54th, the standouts are Andre Braugher as Thomas Searles, a black man raised in white society who has a hard time fitting in with his fellow troops; Morgan Freeman as Rawlins, a former gravedigger whose exemplary service earns him the rank of Sergeant; and the extraordinary Denzel Washington as Pvt. Trip, an 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 more than 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 - and heartbreaking - 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 best Civil War movies that Hollywood ever produced.

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