Genre:  Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for sustained battle sequences)

Release Date:  February 21, 2003

Actors:  Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, Mira Sorvino, Bruce Boxleitner, Kali Rocha, Jeremy London, William Sanderson, Donzaleigh Abernathy

Director:  Ronald F. Maxwell

Special Notes:  Actress Donzaleigh Abernathy is the daughter of civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy and does a fine and convincing job of playing a proud slave who yearns for freedom.

Plot:  This sweeping Civil War epic, beginning in 1861 and continuing through 1863, is a prequel to the film Gettysburg (likewise directed by Ron Maxwell) and climaxes with the Battle of Chancellorsville.  The story is based on events prior to the Battle of Gettysburg and involves several key characters.  On the Union's side is Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Daniels), a professor, husband and father who gave up a promising academic career and went on to become one of the North's finest military leaders.  On the Confederate side are generals Robert E. Lee (Duvall), a 25-year veteran of the Army who was forced to choose between allegiance to his country and loyalty to his home state, and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Lang), a devoutly religious man whose faith and courage made him a role model and hero for his men.  The story examines the military strategies, personal lives and religious nature of these three men and shows how each side felt God was "on their side".

Good:  The epic adaptation of Jeff Shaara's best-selling novel is a dramatic look at America's bloodiest conflict in which more than 620,000 lives were lost.  Despite my frustration with the length of this movie (3 hours and 49 minutes plus a 12-minute intermission), Gods and Generals is a thought-provoking history lesson.  It's a story that examines (in length) the moral and religious character of the Bible-toting men who bravely fought and led our nation in a war against each other.  The story likewise examines the marriages of Chamberlain (whose wife Fanny is played by Sorvino) and Jackson (whose wife Anna is played by Rocha) and elaborates on their attitudes and support for their husbands.  While I can't say this is an incredible epic everyone should see, it is a sincere attempt to deliver an enlightening, realistic and unusual look at the Civil War.  The costumes, battle scenes, cinematography, musical score and cast of hundreds are incredible and help to make this movie an honorable attempt at portraying a difficult time in our nation's history.  I have to admit that I can't remember seeing a movie where the husband and wife pray together in bed.  Nor have I seen many films where the husband reads his Bible to his wife and recites Scriptures to her.  The loving relationship between Jackson and his wife was one I wish more 21st century men would take notice of and copy.  In fact, marriage (in this movie) is positively portrayed and reflects a time when love, loyalty, commitment and a love for one's country gave couples a common bond to hold onto.  I enjoyed the scene where Irish soldiers on one side were crying, because they had to kill their Irish countrymen on the other side.  In fact, they cheered them when they retreated.  This war epic likewise makes a strong statement about the wrongs of slavery and how both sides believed God was directing their victories.

Bad:  I'm a movie buff who can sit through 2 or 3 movies in one day, so an almost 4-hour movie doesn't really faze or bother me…IF…it's interesting.  The almost 4-hour war epic has so many drawn out battle scenes, filled with scene after scene of men fighting and dying, many of you will tire of it long before it's over (I noticed a few bodies missing after intermission).  And that doesn't count the lengthy speeches and stoical conversations that are for the most part, very dry and boring.  Even though writer/director Ron Maxwell is obviously dedicated to realism, there's just too much of it in this movie.  The spiritual emphasis seems a little forced at times and combined with the dry political correctness of the times, the story was a little boring for my taste.  Although this movie is a sincere effort to portray one of the worst wars our country has ever fought, it still lacks a special ingredient that makes this story incredibly compelling and worth the length of the film.  The PG-13 rating is for wartime battle scenes with sustained action.  There are a few bloody bodies with missing limbs and a lot of people blown up, but nothing overly graphic or torturous.

Bottom Line:  If you are a Civil War fan and enjoy a realistic portrayal of what this nation went through during that time in our history, go see this movie.  If you want to support a Christian writer/director who has made an incredible effort to insert a biblical tone and God's Word all the way through a Civil War movie, then go see this film.  If you're looking for language, sex, chase scenes, or gratuitous violence, you won't find it in this historical tribute to a time in our nation's history when slavery and a love for freedom divided our nation.