GLORY. Directed by Edward Zwick; written by Kevin Jarre; produced by Freddie Fioide for Tri-Star. Starrinll Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. Rated R.
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Glory is a fascinating movie, and a most unusual one. It's fascinating because of its subject matter, the painstaking historical detail of its production design and script, and a sure-fire Oscar-class acting performance.
And it's unusual because movies these days aren't normally as depressing as this one, or as single-minded. The story is about the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War—the Union's first black fighting unit, raised in 1863. And that's all it's about; the characters aren't shown apart from their roles as soldiers at all.
The Civil War, of course, was a depressing episode in our country's history. And the period covered by the movie was especially bleak, certainly as seen from the Northern perspective. But it's also an extremely interesting time.
The place of blacks in the War is a particularly intriguing story. Their freedom was one of the Union army's goals, but until the 54th was formed, they weren't allowed to enlist. And, as the movie shows, even after enlisting, it was some time before they were allowed to fight.
Forgive the historical digressions, but Glory does tend to inspire this sort of musing. And it's a welcome intellectual exercise for moviegoers tired of shallow, undemanding films.
As a movie, though, does Glory work? Well, yes, and no. Mostly yes, to be sure. Washington's performance as an embittered recruit who comes to value himself and his country is a marvelous blend of intensity and self-defensive humor. Many of the minor characters are also excellent. So is the production design, which makes us feel the texture of the times almost completely.
It's not as easy to judge Broderick, however. The character he portrays is a son of abolitionists who is given command of the 54th. Convinced the Union's cause is just, he's understandably repulsed by the realities of war, having just been through the Battle of Antietam (where almost as many American soldiers, Union and Confederate, were killed as in the entire Vietnam War).
His performance is better than one would expect in such a serious role, given that he's the star of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But it's hard to say whether his uncertain manner is meant to reflect the character's ambivalence or is simply a result of his being out of his depth here.
Since he's the central character of Glory, with the most onscreen time, whether the movie succeeds or fails depends largely on how the audience responds to him. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and call Glory a slightly qualified success.
January 17, 1990