|This movie won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Denzel Washington); Cinematography; and Sound.||
‘Glory’ (R)By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 12, 1990
"Glory," a historical drama about a black regiment that proves its mettle during the Civil War, may not hold up to intense scrutiny but it marches to the glorious beat that fired up the Massachusetts 54th.
And it's hard not to get carried along.
There was a Massachusetts 54th Regiment, one of many such black units (totaling over 180,000 fighting men) that served in the Union Army and contributed significantly to the Union's ultimate victory (more than 37,000 blacks died); it's also true that fledgling colonel Robert Gould Shaw (played here by Matthew Broderick; more on that later) led the 54th in a death-or-glory assault on Fort Wagner (which guarded Charleston harbor) in the summer of 1863.
There was not, however, a friendly black foursome of volunteers (portrayed by Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy and screen newcomer Andre Braugher) that laughed, bickered and bonded its collective way through basic training before marching boldly into the face of death.
But fact and fiction put together, in this case at least, makes "Glory" (directed by Edward Zwick, co-creator of TV's "thirtysomething") a thoroughly pleasant experience, a lightweight, liberal-heart-swollen high. While the principal performers, particularly wisecracking, jaded runaway slave Washington and wise ex-gravedigger Freeman, create a warming sense of fraternity, Zwick and screenwriter Kevin Jarre (working from Lincoln Kirstein's "Lay This Laurel," Peter Burchard's "One Gallant Rush" and the letters of Col. Shaw) depict authentically the Northern (particularly Irish) racism, the adverse camp conditions and the claustrophic, deadly skirmishes between slow-loading, ragtag armies -- the latter scenes assisted ably by hundreds of battle-reenactment buffs.
The flaws are many, should you look for them. Scriptwriter Jarre (whose previous credit is, uh, "Rambo: First Blood Part II") provides only a superficial sense of his characters' dreams (his script is made better by the performers); that liberal-hearted, misty-eyed giddiness (thanks chiefly to the gushy, rhapsodizing score by James Horner) frequently gets way out of hand; and Broderick, as the Boston Brahmin who leads the 54th to timeless glory, provides a certain, gee-willikers empathy, but he should probably give Neil Simon a call and see what's shaking. continued on next page from previous page In this movie, he's an amiable non-presence, creating unintentionally the notion that the 54th earned their stripes despite wimpy leadership.
For the regiment in "Glory," earning those military stripes also means proving its manhood to the nation. If that seems outdated and racially insulting today, it was no such thing in an age when Americans (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line) considered blacks childlike, immoral and militarily incapable (an attitude that, of course, no longer exists . . .). Washington, Freeman and company give that goal, and this movie, an updated vitality.
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