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Review - we take a look at the spectacular Oscar-winning war movie starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman

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Image credit: Eurogamer

- Edward Zwick Producer - Freddie Fields Starring -   Matthew Broderick   Denzel Washington   Morgan Freeman Filmed - America, 1989 DVD by - Columbia Tri-Star

Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington


The American Civil War (1861-65) was by far the bloodiest conflict in US history, with a lethal mixture of modern technology and antiquated military tactics resulting in more casualties than their forces suffered in both World Wars combined.

Directed by Edward Zwick ("The Siege", "Shakespeare In Love"), Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, the first negro regiment to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Facing racial discrimination from their own side and the threat of execution if captured by the Confederates, the men of the 54th proved themselves in battle at a terrible cost. But their sacrifice helped to inspire 180,000 black men to volunteer for the Union army over the following years, something which President Lincoln described as helping to change the course of the war.

The result is a rousing but tragic story of courage in the face of terrible adversity, including an Oscar-winning performance from Denzel Washington as an escaped slave who volunteers for the regiment, and a typically dignified turn from Morgan Freeman as the elderly Sergeant who acts as a spiritual leader for the men. Meanwhile Matthew "Ferris Bueller" Broderick puts in the performance of his life as the young Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, proving that when he is given a good script he can act as well as the next man. Sadly most of his time since Glory has been wasted on tripe like "Godzilla" and "Inspector Gadget"...

Waiting to be paid in training camp

Boot Camp

Colonel Shaw and his men had to struggle even to see active duty, as the army remained unconvinced that negro troops were suitable for combat. As a result much of the early stages of the movie is taken up by the 54th's training, as a brutal Irish drill instructor helps to turn a group of runaway slaves into an effective fighting unit.

But as movies like "Full Metal Jacket" have proven, boot camp can be just as interesting a place as the battlefield. The 54th are treated as second class soldiers; even getting uniforms and shoes for his men proves to be a struggle for Shaw, and the military refuses to pay them the full wage earned by white soldiers, earmarking them for manual labour only. In one of the most moving scenes of the entire movie, Denzel Washington's character is tied to a cart wheel and flogged for desertion after he was caught leaving the camp trying to find some boots, his feet sore and covered in blood, his back covered in weals from being whipped by his master before he escaped slavery.

Even after they have left the training camp they find themselves relegated to the kind of work they would have expected as slaves rather than soldiers. By the time they see their first action half of the movie has passed, but these early scenes establishing the characters and following their transition from "contraband" to soldiers are excellent in their own right.

The spectacular night assault on Fort Wagner


And once the battle scenes start it soon becomes obvious that they were well worth the wait. Despite the relatively modest budget of the movie the battles are amongst the most spectacular of their kind ever filmed. It's hard not to cringe as the soldiers line up on either side, advance at a walking pace to within a hundred feet of each other and then let loose devastating volleys of rifle fire as the entire battlefield vanishes into a choking cloud of smoke.

Compared to action movies the gore is relatively restrained, apart from one memorable scene involving an artillery shell and an exploding head, but the fights are so brutal that they bring home the sheer futility of the tactics of the time. The air is always thick with smoke from the gunpowder, and once the carefully formed lines meet they soon disintegrate into a chaotic melee of bayonets, pistols and swords. The climactic night time battle as the 54th try to storm Fort Wagner at the end of the movie is simply stunning, eerily lit by flares and explosions.

The whole thing is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by James Horner ("Titanic", "Aliens") which is built around traditional music of the period and does a great job of enhancing the mood of the film, ranging from sombre to uplifting. With excellent direction and choreography, a great script, and top performances from all of the actors, Glory is probably the best Civil War movie ever made, and ranks as one of the best war movies of any kind to grace the big screen in recent years.

Cary Ewles lapses into his Princess Bride role for a swashbuckling end to the movie

The Disc

This great movie is backed up by a superb DVD here in the UK, with sharp and well-defined pictures at a widescreen friendly 1:1.85 ratio and an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which is used to great effect to bring the army camps to life, as well as in the numerous battle scenes.

There is also a whole slew of extra features on the disc, including an above average director's commentary from Edward Zwick, which gives an insight into the making of the movie and some of the tricks which were used to make the relatively small number of extras and stunt men available for most of the scenes fill out the spectacular battles. Interesting and at times amusing, only occassionally does it lapse into the traditional "this actor is really great" school of commentary, and overall it's well worth a listen.

The disc also includes no less than three featurettes, ranging from an eight minute making-of feature filmed at the time of the movie's cinematic release to the sprawling 45 minute documentary about the real life 54th, narrated by Morgan Freeman, which was originally included on the 1991 VHS release of the film. Including shots from the film as well as out-takes and footage of re-enactments, while it may be a little long-winded for some it does give an interesting look at the facts behind the fiction, as well as continuing the 54th's story beyond the battle for Fort Wagner which marks the end of the movie. The final feature is the 20 minute "Glory : The Making Of History", which mostly focuses on exploring individual scenes, including excerpts from the director's commentary and interviews with other members of the cast and crew.

There are two deleted scenes (one of which was definitely best left deleted) totalling six minutes, an isolated musical score allowing you to admire James Horner's work uninterrupted by musketry and cannon fire, and trailers for two other Denzel Washington movies - "The Bone Collector" and "Devil In A Blue Dress". Finally there are short "talent profiles" on the director and stars, although these are essentially just glorified (sorry) filmographies.

Even if (like me) you already own Glory on video, this DVD edition is still well worth buying for the host of extra features and the high quality widescreen transfer. And if you don't already have a copy of this film, you owe it to yourself to buy one! Note that while this disc is only available here in the UK, a very similar package is being released in the USA on January 30th, spread across two discs to accommodate additional audio tracks and subtitles. Film - 9/10 Disc - 9/10 Availability -

Amazon UK - £18.99

DVD Street - £18.99

WHSmith - £16.99

Note - All information is correct at time of writing, but prices and availability may change. If you find any broken links or other problems, please let us know.


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