From 1993, Gettysburg is the story of the famous historical battle from the North and the South during the Civil War. Parts of this movie are way too slow for me, and that includes the beginning. I just missed a bit more of gusto in the opening. It really did not hook me with how it began. Interestingly, Gettysburg did not know what it wanted to me early on. It was a TV mini-series attached to ABC at one point and then ended up being a theatrical film shown on a limited basis due to its length.
The star power is decent. Martin Sheen plays Robert E. Lee. He is good, but not as strong as I would have liked. He sounds almost timid, and I believe that is part of my hesitation here. I think perhaps it was the interpretation of Lee, but then again, Lee is a difficult person to portray in my view. He had many leaves to his character. There is a scene about two-thirds in with Lee and Jeb Stuart (Joseph Fuqua) that really captivated me. It showed how the whole was bigger than the single piece.
I was very much surprised with Jeff Daniel’s portrayal. In the first scene, I did not think I would like him, but then I loved his speech to the “new” men added to his company. He played that with an almost underwhelming affection that worked tremendously. He plays Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who was a real person engaged in the battle, along with two of his brothers, although only one is depicted in the movie.
Sam Elliott is very empowering in his role. The thing about Elliott is that he is a very strong man in real life. What I mean by this is that when you have his attention, he is one hundred percent focused on you. If it was not so alluring, it could be frightening. That is what I see when I watch him here.
The war battles are gritty, long, and oddly captivating. The big battle on day three goes on forever, and yet, I could not look away. One must admit that is a huge part of a war movie, however. These scenes of both sides lined up, side by side, firing so close, it just is tough going. These scenes and others were aided in authenticity by the use of re-enacters throughout. They are better than regular extras ever could have been.
What makes Gettysburg work for me are several of the powerful and often insightful, even poignant scenes between two men, either reviewing what has already happened, the battle about to occur, or just their place in the war. There are so many of these, and in these moments, I forget I am watching a movie. The action scenes are detailed, but those quiet conversations are really what it is all about.
This movie tells a big story and has some very solid performances. I am not totally sure about the character interpretations, but it is a giant part of history to tell.