Glory (1989)

“Glory” was a longtime favorite film of mine, top five. I saw it in a theater in North Carolina as a high school kid, and it literally changed my life. An eye-opener, for me, and my understanding of our nation.

It’s dropped down the list quite a bit since I saw it in that old dusty, even-then-ancient theater, being absolutely blown away by the film’s story of the first black Union regiment in the Civil War. And I still am blown away, in absolute awe of the relentless depictions of battle, and the camp scenes, and the drama of an America going through self-inflicted, suicidal hell (and we think we have it rough now, oh, what bad memories we have) to regain part of its soul…

Or maybe get a new one, depending on how you see history. Maybe the latter, more, to me.

Matthew Broderick put away his comedic Ferris to play real Union hero Robert Shaw, the young colonel tasked with leading the 54th Mass. Among his charges are Morgan Freeman as a grave digger turned spiritual guru, Andre Braugher as free man and childhood friend of Shaw’s, and — in a breakout role that left me crushed, openly crying right next to my older brother, who also just wept loud and hard — Denzel Washington as an escaped slave righteously and rightfully angry at the world. No. Angry at the United States of America.

The battle scenes are gritty, dirty and seem realistic (having participated in Civil War re-enactments myself) and the story, again, is amazing.

Director Edward Zwick (he later made the drippy, silly, over-baked — but gorgeous — “Legends of the Fall”) lays on the pomp and the heroism thick, but this still is a great, great film. An important, vital film.

The cinematography by Freddie Francis still amazes 20-plus years later. (It won the Oscar for cinematography.)

Some hate Broderick in the lead, but I think he’s perfect. Broderick is a light dramatic actor (excellent comedian), and he plays a man out of his league here who must rise to the occasion and the sheer aura of those around him. At film’s end, Broderick does that as Shaw.

This write-up is based in part on one I wrote years ago, with a few tweaks. I have not seen the film since, but look forward to the screening here at The Lyric. This story is America, folks. Imperfect and fractured. That goes for the film, too. If you have never seen it, born after its release, correct this oversight. You will be thankful. Grade: A

-Steven Mackay, Lyric volunteer

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