Rated: PG Reviewed by: Chris Release date: October 8, 1993 Released by: New Line Cinema
To the beat of a drum and the sound of a bugle, more than 53,000 men lost their lives in the battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863.
Farmers and school teachers fought, side by side, not for money or land, but for a belief that all men should be free.
Director Ronald Maxwell tells this story in a little over four hours, including an intermission. It begins with the South headed by General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) and General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) plotting their strategy from information brought to them by an actor working as their spy. Sheen portrays the general as somewhat confused and fatalistic, and Berenger's Longstreet is a man who believes that Lee's orders are ill-conceived, but follows them to the letter anyway. At first, Berenger seemed miscast, but he worked himself into the part very believably.
Sam Elliott, as the North's General John Buford, appears for too short a period of time. He heads his regiment in the taking of an important hill and then disappears. Elliott's long, lined face shows every small defeat that his men have experienced, and he's very good. Jeff Daniels plays the North's Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, and his aid de camp and younger brother is played by C. Thomas Howell. Daniels does a great job as the caring, educated Colonel. He give a stirring speech to a group of mutineers on the meaning of the war that puts everything into perspective.
The film shows this horrible war and the unbelievable hardships the men endured; the endless marching sometimes without shoes on their feet the lack of food and sleep and running out of ammunition during the heat of battle. Daniels is at his best when he encourages his men, who are wounded and tired after many attacks, to pick up their muskets and fight with their bayonets when they run out of ammo.
The late Richard Jordan is also very moving as a Southern general. He puts a personal face on this war by crying over the fact that his dear childhood friend is fighting for the North, and he fears that they will someday meet in combat.
Gettysburg ends with each side squaring off with cannons lined up and firing in rapid succession, like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. When the thick smoke clears, dead bodies cover the land. In the audience, the sighs are audible when the fighting is finally over.
The film captures the spirit of this historical event. It's a moving and interesting experience well worth the time.