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Glory (1989)


I’ll admit that the Civil War just isn’t my choice of an afternoon. Between TNT’s affinity of putting Gettysburg on every 4th of July and the love that multiple friends of mine seem to harbor for drawn out epics concerning the Civil War (either on film or in book), I just have gotten fairly sick and tired of seeing the Civil War on celluloid again and again. You pile on the fact that I had to change my phrasing to ‘the war of Northern aggression’ whilst I was living in Raleigh, North Carolina and I just don’t want to hear another thing for it.

This said, you can see why Glory is a very special exception to my rule of antipathy towards war films with muskets in them.

Marking Edward Zwick’s first, and perhaps finest, attempt at directing a serious film, Glory concerns the first black regiment of the Civil War. It follows the 54th of Massachusetts from their formation at the behest of Boston abolitionists to their martyrdom at Battery Wagner in South Carolina. A note: I feel no guilt about telling you this. It is akin to saying the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.

Although the film, as one retells the plot, should feel a little hokey, it has no such aura about it. It does not feel contrived. It does not feel blaring in its point about equality. What it does feel like is an incredibly compelling movie of the bond formed not only between soldiers but between man and man… regardless of color.

The script works, but does not work great. The acting works, but, with the exception of Denzel Washington’s Academy-Award winning performance, does not work great. In fact, aside from such things as those that grabbed awards in this film, nothing works exceptionally well.

What makes Glory the finest Civil War film (and one of the finest war films period) that I have ever seen whittles down to the infamous X-factor: The unidentifiable component of a movie known as magic. It is perhaps the end result of the ingredients of the witch’s brew of moviemaking.

This X-factor does not merit further discussion. It is, like the laws of Physics, one of the things of the universe to which the why can only be explained by a higher power. I have spent five years contemplating said X-factor, and am no closer to realizing what makes a good movie good then when I started. I only know this: when a movie is crap, it is crap. When a movie is good, it is good. And Glory is very, very good.