Hold the hallelujahs for this botched Civil War epic about the first black fighting regiment in U.S. history, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Led by white officers, with Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of Boston in command, the Fifty-fourth faced virulent racism but distinguished itself in battle. Until now, Hollywood has never acknowledged the contribution black soldiers made in the Civil War (by war’s end, they constituted twelve percent of the Union army). So what went wrong with this attempt to make amends?
It’s start with Matthew Broderick, catastrophically miscast as Shaw. Working against his cutie-pie image, Broderick freezes his face into a somber mask while director-coscreenwriter Edward Zwick, creator of TV’s thirtysomething, holds the camera on him for interminable close-ups in the vain hope that a thought will be readable on that bland countenance.
The black actors, especially Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and newcomer Andre Braugher, fare better, but against daunting odds. Though the film has an evocative look reminiscent of Matthew Brady’s period photographs, Zwick has stuffed the actors’ mouths with numbing bombast. Glory is a shame.