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Glory is a 1989 American drama war film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and the novels Lay This Laurel, by Lincoln Kirstein, and One Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard. The story is based on the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first formal unit of the US Army to be made up entirely of African American men, as told from the point of view of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, its commanding officer during the American Civil War. The film was co-produced by TriStar Pictures and Freddie Fields Productions, and distributed by Tri-Star Pictures in the United States. It premiered in limited release in the US on December 14, 1989, and in wide release on February 16, 1990, making $26,828,365. It was considered a moderate financial success taking into account its $18 million budget. The soundtrack, composed by James Horner in conjunction with the Boys Choir of Harlem, was released on January 23, 1990. The home video was distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
This said, you can see why Glory is a very special exception to my rule of antipathy towards war films with muskets in them.
Marking Edward Zwick's first, and perhaps finest, attempt at directing a serious film, Glory concerns the first black regiment of the Civil War. It follows the 54th of Massachusetts from their formation at the behest of Boston abolitionists to their martyrdom at Battery Wagner in South Carolina. A note: I feel no guilt about telling you this. It is akin to saying the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.
Although the film, as one retells the plot, should feel a little hokey, it has no such aura about it. It does not feel contrived. It does not feel blaring in its point about equality. What it does feel like is an incredibly compelling movie of the bond formed not only between soldiers but between man and man regardless of color.
The script works, but does not work great. The acting works, but, with the exception of Denzel Washington's Academy-Award winning performance, does not work great. In fact, aside from such things as those that grabbed awards in this film, nothing works exceptionally well.
What makes Glory the finest Civil War film (and one of the finest war films period) that I have ever seen whittles down to the infamous X-factor: The unidentifiable component of a movie known as magic. It is perhaps the end result of the ingredients of the witch's brew of moviemaking.
This X-factor does not merit further discussion. It is, like the laws of Physics, one of the things of the universe to which the why can only be explained by a higher power. I have spent five years contemplating said X-factor, and am no closer to realizing what makes a good movie good then when I started. I only know this: when a movie is crap, it is crap. When a movie is good, it is good. And Glory is very, very good.