I’m sure you know that I’m a Civil War buff. I minored in history in college with an emphasis in Civil War history. More than the battles, I’m fascinated by the people – their character, commitment to a cause (on both sides), their faith and their leadership skills.
I probably own over one hundred books on the Civil War, mostly on the leaders. It’s a collection I started a long time ago and (to my wife’s chagrin) I keep adding to it.
On Friday, February 21st, I was the first in line at the first showing of the new Civil War epic, ‘Gods and Generals.’ I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. I was not disappointed. The movie is long, nearly four hours, but it never felt long. I felt the movie was true to the times without trying to be politically correct.
During those four hours, I experienced a wide variety of emotions. For some of it, I sat on the edge of my seat. The sound of bullets flying by you will do that! At other times, I found myself crying, especially in a few of the scenes with Stonewall Jackson.
That night, I went to my hotel and watched a documentary on the movie on the Black Entertainment Network (BET). There were clips and commentary by the two African Americans who had lead roles in the film. I found it interesting that one of them said Stonewall Jackson was one of the first persons committed to Civil Rights. Of course, he was right. Jackson believed that the slaves should be educated. He taught slaves in his community to read (from the Bible) which was against the law at that time.
The thing I found humorous was that Ted Turner has invested nearly $100 million dollars of his own money to make this movie possible. Turner is no believer but he has provided us with a movie that is clearly ‘Christian’ in that it is uncompromising in presenting the faith of these men. Chamberlain, Jackson and Lee were all professing believers in Jesus Christ. This comes out clearly in the movie.
This movie is an adaptation of Jeff Shaara’s best selling novel. I believe it honors those who died on both sides, some 620,000. This is a must see movie whether you are a Civil War buff, history buff or not. The director, Ron Maxwell has made these historical figures come alive. He has allowed us to step back in time to one of the great crises in American history.
The movie is rated PG-13 for sustained battle sequences. It has to be for it to be realistic. I counted only five profanities and at no time is God’s name taken in vain. Over 7,000 men volunteered to take part in the film. They are men who are committed to accuracy in retelling the stories of our heritage. Without those who remember history, we are destined to repeat it.
The costumes, battle scenes, cinematography and musical score are as powerful as the first film, “Gettysburg”. I believe the men playing the key roles in this one are more believable. Robert Duvall certainly does a better job of playing Robert E. Lee than Martin Sheen. Who thought it was a good idea for a rabid liberal with a terrible Southern accent to play Robert E. Lee anyway? Duvall and Stephen Lang, who portrays Stonewall Jackson are so believable, you will think you have stepped back in time. In my opinion, Lang ‘nails’ the role and should be considered for an Academy Award.
The movie examines in great detail the faith and marriages of both Chamberlain and Jackson. When’s the last time you saw a movie that portrayed a husband and wife praying in bed or reciting Scripture to one another? It’s worth the price of the ticket just to support that.
If you are a Civil War fan, you’ll love this movie. If you aren’t, you need to see it anyway. Every parent should take their older children. We are facing war in this country and the reality of war is clearly portrayed without the language of most war flicks. Plus, your kids need to appreciate and understand history. I doubt if they will sit down and read the hundreds of pages in Shaara’s book, but they will watch a movie.
One reviewer said, “If you are looking for language, sex, chase scenes, or gratuitous violence, you won’t find it in this movie. Instead, this historical tribute highlights a time in our nation’s history when slavery and a love for freedom divided our nation, and men on both sides relied on their faith and prayers to deliver us from that division and make us one nation under God again.”
Get out. Get a ticket. Take your family. Tell a friend about it. Let’s support something that’s positive instead of just criticizing the movies that are negative. Oh, by the way, there is a 12 minute intermission which you will need, especially if you got the large Coke before you walked in.
Further Reasons to See Gods and Generals
Below is a review of the movie Gods and Generals. If you read it, you’ll want to see the movie. No matter your view of the war, the portrayal of the faith of these men is worth the price of the ticket.
A film review from Doug Phillips of The Vision Forum:
Gods And Generals Succeeds ‘Chariots Of Fire’ As The Christ-Honoring Film For This Generation
“In every generation, one film emerges from the dust heap which is Hollywood and reminds even the most hardened of us skeptics that God can turn ashes into beauty, that He often works outside our tidy little mental boxes, and that there yet remains a witness for Jesus Christ in our culture — though that witness may take the form of a hero speaking from the grave.
When I was a young man en route to college, that film was CHARIOTS OF FIRE, the epic tale of Christian Olympian Eric Liddell. For our children’s generation, that film is GODS AND GENERALS, the stunning prequel to the Civil War masterpiece GETTYSBURG.
In February of 2002, I flew to Hollywood with my father to see a private five-and-a-half-hour director’s cut with our friend Ron Maxwell, the genius behind the movie. None of us were prepared for what we saw that day — what can only be described as the most compelling and distinctively Christian tribute to principled biblical leadership that this generation has seen on celluloid. It took me more than a week to recover from what I experienced. For one brief moment in our lives, those of us in that forty-person theater were transported out of the twenty-first century and into the more distant time of the Civil War, the events of which would help define the people which we are today. And for a few hours, we were allowed to live and breathe with the man whose very sobriquet has become synonymous with manhood. We rode with Stonewall.
The heart and the soul of GODS AND GENERALS is Stephen Lang’s never-to-be-surpassed portrayal of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, the most misunderstood, but most overtly evangelical and Christian general in our nation’s history. Here we see Jackson seeking to win dying souls, not to some god, but to Jesus Christ. Here we watch him praying that God would allow a cessation from battle to honor the Holy Sabbath. Here we weep with him as he rejoices that God would bless the fruit of the womb. Here we see the man, who was known to most as a warrior, demonstrate a love and loyalty to his wife so precious and sanctified that an aura of holiness engulfs the couple as they pray before their God. Here we watch in awe, as we have never watched a man before, embrace a holy ferocity in battle motivated by the singular belief that the warrior of Christ need never fear bullets, for he will not die one day sooner nor later than a sovereign God decrees. And here, with heartbreaking anguish, we watch the dying warrior commend his soul to his God, while the loved ones around him bathe him with hymns of eternal love to the Savior.
After seeing the film, James Robertson, our nation’s premier Civil War historian, declared that “GODS AND GENERALS is the greatest Civil War film I have ever seen, and I have seen every one of them.” Historian Bill Kauffman commented: “Mr. Lincoln said he liked his speeches short and sweet, so here it is: GODS AND GENERALS is not only the finest movie ever made about the Civil War, it is also the best American historical film. Period. Writer-director Ron Maxwell’s prequel … is so free of cant, of false notes, of the politically conformist genuflections that we expect in our historical movies, that one watches it as if in a trance, wondering if he hasn’t stumbled into a movie theater in an alternative America wherein talented independents like Maxwell get $80 million from Ted Turner to make complex and beautiful films about what Gore Vidal has called ‘the great single tragic event that continues to give resonance to our Republic.'”
By this film, Maxwell has emerged as the most humble, the most visionary, and the most fearless director of the day. His humility is evidenced by what the film does not say, as much as by what it does say. Maxwell understands that the poignant complexities surrounding the Civil War and the profound nobility of purpose imagined by the players on both sides of the conflict demand a film that neither preaches nor skirts the true issues. He not only refuses to reduce history to trite sound bites, but he weaves a film that requires the viewer to understand the heart and soul of the key players on both sides before making judgments.
Maxwell’s vision is especially impressive. He has understood what no other producer of note has understood — namely, that a profanity- and sensuality-free epic battle film with an overtly evangelical Christian protagonist can be utterly compelling to the people of this nation. Not since Cecil B. DeMille has this even been attempted. Yet many viewers will find that Maxwell surpasses even DeMille in his open enthusiasm for teaching history through the lens of Christian heroism.
Maxwell is simply fearless. My first reaction after seeing the movie in 2002 was, “it will never reach the theaters — someone will blackball the project.” But note: Maxwell is not taking sides. He is simply presenting truths that are not easily processed by those who want to reduce the complexities of history to socially acceptable sound bites about slavery. Equally compelling is Maxwell’s portrayal of the federal soldier, personified through the character of Joshua Chamberlain (played by Jeff Daniels). I predict that even the most ardent Southerner will find himself deeply touched by Chamberlain and the heroic battle of the Irish Brigade.
In one of the more remarkable episodes in the history of modern film, the Lord moved in the life of a Hollywood writer/director/producer to speak to the issue of manhood and faith, and then gave him favor in the eyes of media mogul Ted Turner, who opened up the door by bankrolling the $80 million project. Impossible, you say? We serve the God of the impossible. Now here’s some tough medicine: If this film had been left to the Christian community to produce, it probably would never have been made not for lack of money, not even for lack of ability — but for lack of a courageous vision. Too many Christians would have been afraid of the inevitable and bogus charges of racism which abound whenever Confederate leaders are portrayed favorably. They would have been afraid of Jackson’s uncompromising and manly Christianity. But most of all, they would have been afraid that the film was, well, just too Christian!
That’s right. Christians are afraid of overtly Christian culture. Most Christian filmmakers and cultural communicators have bought into the notion that one must either reduce the Gospel message to trite little maxims, or present it with such subtlety that the Gospel message is almost undecipherable. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for subtlety, but there is also a place for the overt proclamation of truth.
GODS AND GENERALS presents orthodox, no-holds-barred Christianity. Not because the film was designed as a tool of evangelism, but because the film is faithful and true to the life of a soldier who was first and foremost an obedient evangelist for Jesus Christ.
This is not a “nice” film, but Christianity is not always “nice.” It’s not nice when a general is called to execute his own soldiers for desertion. It is not nice, but it is biblical, as Jackson explains with tremendous clarity and precision. It is not nice to pick up the sword and go to battle, but when one is defending one’s homeland, it is mandatory.
My single greatest concern is that many Christians will lack the spiritual and theological maturity to understand the consistency and orthodoxy of Jackson’s worldview. They will seek to evaluate this man through the twenty-first century grid of pop-Christianity, or brand him a self-contradiction, or an enigma.
The truth is that Jackson was one of the most rigorously consistent and principled leaders in American military history. He represents the type of man we rarely see any more: focused under pressure, fearless in the face of death, ferocious in battle, but singularly tender in home life and wedded bliss.
Here was a movie that would do more than accurately record history; it would make history. Maxwell has given the children of this generation the opportunity to gain rich insights into the fathers of their fathers. Only by engaging their history truthfully can we even dare to understand our present identity or our future destiny as the American people.
Ron Maxwell has defied the political correctness police of both the Right and the Left by giving the American people a truthful vision of their past. He has shown a time when men defended women, when faith in God defined a man’s vision of duty, when the greatest leaders were also the most committed Christians. For the first time in the history of modern major motion pictures, a director with guts has given us the opportunity to understand the complexities, the beauty, the horror, the glory, the tragedy, and the Gospel witness found in one of the greatest fratricides in the history of any people.”
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.
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