“And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you’ve been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain’t dying.”
The American Civil War fascinates me. It blows my mind that the country which fought their own kick ass war of Independence and booted out the Brits in the 18th century, could have declined into their own civil war 80 odd years later. Then, go on to become the most patriotic, jingoistic country on the world less than another century later when it was time for WWII. From my outside perspective, the Civil War just seems so antithetical to the story of America, an outside perspective learned almost exclusively through movies. Which is why it’s weird that I’ve seen so few American Civil War movies. So I’m trying to fix that, and that starts with Glory.
It’s the height of the American Civil War. After witnessing battle close up, but spending most if it under the body of a dead soldier, Union Major Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is determined to prove himself a great soldier. Volunteering to lead the first ever regiment of black soldiers, he’s promoted to Colonel and takes his childhood friend, Major Cabot Forbes (Carey Elwes) with him. The first to volunteer for this new regiments is another lifelong friend, Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher). Born a free black man, and the son of a free man, Thomas has enjoyed a life of privilege other black men of the time could only dream of. Which makes him totally unprepared for the hardship of war, but also the one who feels like he owes the most to the cause.
As boot camp begins, the core characters of the story are fleshed out by wise old recruit John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), young hot head recruit Trip (Denzel Washington) and wide eyed innocent recruit Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy). Once they enter training, Shaw must find a balance between being an effective commanding officer, while also maintaining his own humanity, and come to terms with his friendship with Thomas. It turns out, the way Union army brass treated their low ranking soldiers wasn’t all that different to how white guys treated black guys in general back then. A laughing stock and the butt of every joke, Shaw and his men must prove to their allies that they deserve respect before they’ll even be given a chance to fight the enemy.
The thing that stood out most to me in Glory was the battle scenes. And sure, that makes sense for a war movie, but I don’t mean they necessarily stood out for cinematic reasons, but more for realism reasons. If the depiction of the Civil War is accurate in this movie, it is some intense shit. Watching apposing armies slowly march toward each other, in the open, facing off less than half a footy field away before they open fire is stomach churning stuff. It gives the battles in Glory a kind of slow, agonising burn that you just don’t see in many war movies.
Glory is a message movie that gets its message delivery right. When I watched 12 Years a Slave, I felt like the extent of its message was, slavery and racism are bad. It was that obvious and ham fisted with everything it did. But with Glory, it’s about a lot more than that, while using race as a way to get it across. While technically the lead role is Broderick’s, it never shies away from him making mistakes and being an outright dick. The same way it doesn’t make the black characters infallible and wise.
Bigger than just race, it’s about a world where intolerance goes a lot deeper than colour. Which is why the chest pumping seems a little more earned when people learn lessons or overcome adversity, than it ever did in 12 Years a Slave.