Review by Michael Jacobson
Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher
Director: Edward Zwick
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: January 30, 2001
Glory is an extraordinary film about extraordinary
people who carved their names in the annals of American history…yet it took
this film for many Americans to realize it.
In that respect, it stands as a testament to the power of the art of
cinema, but it’s much more than that. It’s
an amazingly crafted and powerful war film that puts a human face on the
conflict it covers, and gives voice to those who did the fighting.
It’s the story of the 54th of
Massachusetts…the first American regiment of black soldiers, all volunteers,
who assembled to fight for the Union and the freedom of their own people in the
Civil War. They were considered by
some a motley group of men, ranging from runaway slaves to educated Northern men
who were born free and had never tasted the shackles of bondage.
Many in power in the Army didn’t believe a black regiment would be any
good or could show discipline under fire. For
a while, it seemed the 54th would never get a chance to prove them
wrong: trained to be soldiers, they
spent a good part of the war doing nothing more than menial labor.
But when the opportunity came in the form of a near suicide mission, the
men fought with a sense of honor and gallantry unseen since the days of the
Alamo. As a military effort, it was
a dismal failure. But as a historical event, it would be remembered as a
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Broderick) became the man picked
to assemble and lead the army’s first black regiment. He seemed a good choice to the powers that be for at least
two reasons: he was the son of a
famous abolitionist who shared his fathers views, and he displayed some signs of
battle wear from his last action (a potent skirmish that opens the movie).
His attack was a disaster, and, it would seem, leading a troop of
volunteer black soldiers was a way to keep him out of any more fighting.
Nobody seemed to believe that such a group could actually
be turned into an effective fighting force…possibly not even the Colonel at
first. But these men of vastly
varied backgrounds came together under some brutally rigorous training.
Not every man was fighting the same war.
Trip (Washington, in an Oscar winning performance), was a runaway slave
filled with rage. He enlisted to fight his own cause, and doesn’t make many
friends when he cynically charges that nothing will change for the black man,
even if the north wins the war (ironic in hindsight to consider how right he
was). Rawlins (Freeman) was a quiet
man who left his family and kin behind when he escaped slavery some years back.
Searles (Braugher) was an educated free man, who is there to fight for a
cause he believes in, but only slowly begins to fully understand.
The battle scenes are amazing…some of the most powerful
and memorable before Saving Private Ryan.
But the scope of the fighting never overtakes the humanity of the
story, as the men struggle not only against the enemy on the opposite side, but
against those sided with them…those who would decide, for example, that shoes
weren’t really needed for them since nobody believed they would actually ever
fight, or that they should be paid less than their fellow white soldiers, though
as Trip points out, “we stop bullets just as well as they do”.
Colonel Shaw himself becomes a bit of a target for ridicule
by his fellow officers in other divisions.
But, despite the cultural differences he admits himself he cannot breach,
he slowly becomes one with his men. When
the men refuse their money in protest of the unfair pay, he joins them.
And by the time the 54th is ready for their ill fated attack
on Fort Wagner, his men are more than ready to follow him, even unto their
This is a remarkable cast, headed by one of Matthew
Broderick’s finest performances. The
film is largely based on Colonel Shaw’s letters from the field, and as such,
it is through Shaw’s eyes that we witness these events. And special mention must go to Denzel Washington, for one of
his edgiest and most raw performances. His
is a cynical voice in the film, but, as pointed out, largely a truthful and
historically accurate one.
Edward Zwick’s direction is superb, and he brings the
film a strong sense of balance and purpose.
The battle scenes are allowed to flourish, but he photographs quiet,
intimate moments with equal care and attention…it is those moments that make
up the true heart of the story. I’ve
seen very few films that can match his for a combination of intense war scenes,
personal human drama, and sense of historical reality.
Glory preserves for all of us an important piece of
our history, and reminds us that said history doesn’t always express itself
fully in the margins of textbooks. Sometimes,
it takes our own hearts, minds and souls to serve as tablets for words and deeds
too great for pen and paper.
anamorphic transfer from Columbia Tri Star (full frame presentation also
included) far exceeded my expectations. It
is one of the best looking discs of an 80’s film I’ve seen. Compare the actual movie to the trailer if you want to
appreciate the superb job done here. The
print itself is remarkably clean, and the images are sharp and clear throughout,
even when scenes are textured with smoke or fog.
The coloring is extremely natural looking, with no apparent fading or
bleeding. There are many darker
scenes that render beautifully, with no noticeable distortion, grain, or
compression artifacts. The final
battle scene, which takes place at night, is easily some of the best looking low
light photography I’ve seen rendered on a DVD.
Save for one scene, when the Colonel makes his direct request to let his
men fight that looked a little more shopworn than others, I’d have to say this
is a nearly perfect looking disc.
This picture won an Oscar for sound, and this disc makes
the most of a remarkable soundtrack. The
5.1 audio is as impressively dynamic as you would expect from a war film, with
lots of discreet multi channel action and plenty of low kick from the subwoofer
during the battle scenes. Dialogue
clarity is excellent, as is James Horner’s sweeping, emotional score.
This soundtrack puts you in the middle of the action and holds you
there…an excellent listen.
Disc one contains the widescreen presentation of the film,
as well as an audio commentary by director Zwick and a special
picture-in-picture commentary with him, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman.
Each one is filmed separately as they watch the film and reminisce, and
the picture frame moves around so as not to cover up crucial parts of the movie.
It’s a unique concept, and very well done. Disc two contains the full frame version and most of the
supplemental material, starting with two excellent historically based features:
the short “Voices of Glory”, which recalls actual letters
written by the men of the 54th, and the Morgan Freeman narrated 45
minute documentary “The True Story of Glory Continues”, which delves
more into the actual history of the events.
There are also deleted scenes, three trailers, and talent files, plus the
director’s audio commentary also appears here.
An informative and well-packaged group of extras.
Glory gets the DVD treatment it deserves with this remarkable double disc set from Columbia Tri Star. The stellar audio and video transfer, in addition to the generous collection of extras, add to an already superb and unforgettable film, and make this a must own for any collector.