Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Denzel Washington, Jihmi Kennedy, Andre Braugher, Bob Gunton
Synopsis: This film represents the true story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick), commander of the first regiment of “colored soldiers” during the American civil war. Despite his rank, he is fighting the inexperience of his youth, as well as the trauma from what he has already seen on the battlefield. As such, he remains distant and aloof from his men, but through them he learns his own strength.
A review by Film Nerd.
Perhaps reviewing the Zwick films in the order that I saw them may prove an injustice, as for me this is the absolute best of his films. As such, subsequent reviews, through generally good, will not be quite as glowing as this one. It has that perfect combination of a talented director, pitch perfect cast, and bringing to light a story well worth being told and perpetuated.
It is an interesting plot device that throughout Broderick is narrating from Shaw’s own letters home to his family. It gives a depth to the performance that indicates that despite artistic license, Shaw’s own character arc clearly follows that which is observed on-screen. It also reflects the fact that the speech used by Broderick in the role does reflect Shaw’s own writing style. It may be a surprise to see Ferris Bueller himself, eternally young, in this role, but it is clear that Shaw was a young commander, making the casting appropriate, and Broderick infuses it with just the right level of vulnerability.
This is more than Shaw’s story, however. It is also about the bravery and the internal conflicts of a down-trodden society. We follow the exploits of four soldiers specifically, observing how different background respond to the conflict. First there is young Jupiter Sharts (Kennedy), full of youthful optimism and naivety. Then there is Thomas Searles (Braugher), who grew up an educated servant of Shaw’s family, a background that separates him from his colleagues. Morgan Freeman, always a powerful on-screen presence, represents and older perspective as Sergent Rawlins, with a clear serenity developed through years of dealing with hardship. For this company though, the most powerful performance belongs to Washington as Private Trip. He is a young man full of anger, ready to lash out at his colleagues and his oppressors alike. He does not respond well to authority, becoming a thorn in Shaw’s side But his skill and drive are clear, and this is a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance well deserving of such accolades.
There are a few flaws, in pacing, and sometimes the tone does seem to jar with the events at hand. These are minor criticisms though, given the wealth of great story and great performances on display here. This is an absolute must see film.
5 stars (out of a possible 5)