Director Ron Maxwell returns to a familiar era with his Civil War drama “Copperhead.” Only this time, the man behind “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” steers clear of the battlefields, turning his attention to the war’s impact on a small town in Upstate New York.
The film lands in fresh territory, focusing on Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), who lives in the North but doesn’t consider himself a Yankee. Nor does he support slavery. He’s a pacifist who thinks that keeping his sons safe is more important than any cause.
This puts him on the wrong side of the fire-breathing, Bible-thumping abolitionist Jee Hagadorn (Angus Macfadyen), who turns the entire town against Abner, labeling him a copperhead. The tension only builds as, in a star-crossed turn, Abner’s son Jeff (Casey Brown) and Jee’s daughter Esther (Lucy Boynton) fall in love.
In an effort to impress Esther, Jeff ships out to join the Union’s fight, but Maxwell’s focus remains smartly on the battle brewing in the small town.
The story offers uncommon insights on the endlessly parsed period in history, but its execution sometimes falls short. Both the production quality and the persistent, sentimental soundtrack create a made-for-TV feel. And the acting is a bit uneven, with varied success among the actors at mastering an old-timey accent. But that doesn’t distract too terribly from the moral of the story — that the damages of war stretch far beyond the battlefield.
PG-13. At AMC Hoffman Center 22. Contains an unsettling sequence. 120 minutes.