Chris Conner is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and I happen to have had the pleasure of interviewing him last year in the midst of my coverage of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut release, where he portrayed the infamous John Wilkes Booth, and perfectly nailed the role with conviction and charisma, giving some life to an oft vilified player in our American history. After seeing those highly anticipated scenes, I went out and watched (and reviewed) one of his other films, called The Assistants, which was a comedy about the cutthroat goings-on behind-the-scenes in Hollyood—I thought it was fantastic. Since then, he has appeared in Halloween II, as well as an episode of Without a Trace. He currently has two movies about to be released, one titled Teacher of the Year, and the other, a new, awesome looking Sci-Fi short titled Duality, which focuses on a scientist who has found an incredible way of duplicating matter, something that could change the world if put to a positive task such as organ donation. However, as the story unfolds, not everything goes according to plan, and he ends up duplicating himself, and he and his double have to work together to find a way out of their precarious situation.
We are going to kick off the awards season on a light note today, because the next two awards to come are rather bleak and sarcastic. This year could have very well been the year of the interview, because I was never busier than when tracking down various cast and crew members for my coverage of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut release and premiere, and a little bit later with my blogging for the upcoming television mini-series To Appomattox. Aside from that, I tried to stay on par with my normal hockey coverage, though that took a back seat for quite a long time. I would have loved to nominate everyone that I had a chance to speak to, because each one was very special and informative in its own right, but I have narrowed it down to the following below, based on popularity, total reads, and feedback. The Mallon interview, though it took place in December of 2010, will be included here, because it would be unfair to leave out the one that started it all, when referring to G & G—that and the fact that it was highly memorable! Winners will be announced on December 31. Happy voting!
All of us find, or have found, ourselves working jobs in which we are below others, being “assistants”, so to speak. Sometimes the person who employs us is gracious, making the job fun and easy to work at, but other times, the job becomes a living hell. It is because of this scenario that has become all too familiar to those of us who do not have tons of money at our disposal, does this 2009 comedy, The Assistants, really hit home and provide us with a touch of inspiration that maybe we can make it big after all. Eager to see Chris Conner in a role other than the serious, Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth, whose scenes were restored in the newly released Extended Director’s Cut of Gods and Generals, I picked this film up off of Netflix and just finished watching it. I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it; not just Conner’s acting, but the entire cast as a whole.
It can be assumed that the plot of this film hit home with most of the actors as well, because this movie basically details the trials and tribulations of producers in Hollywood and what it actually takes to get a finished product to the big screen. Conner stars as the assistant to a big-time producer, played by Joe Mantegna, who sees his career stagnant with complacency, as his dream of becoming a real producer himself is slowly starting to slip away. His best friends, who are all in the movie business in some capacity, are in the same boat. Aaron Himelstein is a promising young writer, stuck being an assistant to a now washed-up, former superstar played by Jane Seymour. Michael Grant Terry is an assistant to another producer as well, Reiko Aylesworth, who is a bit more conniving that Mantegna. Kathleen Early desperately wants to make it as a director, but has the job of being the personal assistant to an up-and-coming teen idol, whose looks are eerily similar to that of Zach Efron (whether or not this was intentional, I do not know), performed by Jonathan Bennett. Lastly, Peter Douglas is an electrician who is also disgruntled at where his life currently is.
Through some clever trickery, all of these characters will find a way to make it in Hollywood, by creating a fake film project to give to Mantegna, all of which is orchestrated by Conner, who at first, does not even know what his friends did without his knowledge. In order to actually get this project (or “cover”, as they call in Hollywood; a term used to describe the synopsis of a script not yet read by the producer) some recognition, the group decides to use the name of a once-great screenwriter, Harlan Keyes (the always great Stacy Keach), as the author. Because the producer is an immense fan of his, he is immediately sold. But not everything comes easy, of course, and to elaborate would spoil the plot for those who have not yet seen it. Just trust me when I say that there is so much going on in every scene, with a lot of details that you need to pay attention to, and the film switches from comedy to drama several times. The intensity in seeing the completion of this project is highly entertaining, and something we can all relate too. We all have visions, I believe, of becoming famous in some way, whether it be through writing, acting, singing, etc., and we all know what the chances are of success—all those dreams seem nothing but far-fetched fantasies. Yet, we still hold out hope that we will be recognized some day. That is what this cast does (mostly young and up-and-coming actors in their own right); it gives themselves chances to believe, both for their characters in the film, and who they are in real life.
It is unfortunate that their names are not more recognizable, though Terry now has a regular role on the hit FOX series Bones. Chris Conner, meanwhile, should definitely be in more movies, because I have now been witness to his versatility firsthand. He went from performing soliloquies of four hundred year old regicides, to play a more lively, and humorous role as fictional producer’s assistant Jack Ryder. In this day and age of acting, being able to not fall into typecast is easier said than done.
The Assistants is a little known, independent film, once again falling to comparison with the project the characters seek to make. I will give this film a rating of 8 out of 10, because of how impressed I was (even with my normal loathing of comedies), and I can only hope that Conner, and even Himelstein, who I also thought was outstanding, will get more recognition, and with that, more roles. This is a film I highly recommend, especially if you are like me, in that you find the intricacies of film-making interesting. With its depiction of the personalities of the rich and famous, as well as the continual backstabbing, soul-selling, and “BS”-ing that goes on behind the scenes, I now sit here and wonder if this film actually is not more fact than fiction.
P.S: Maybe I should have written more about this earlier, but I did not want to cloud the actual review. I have long dreamed of being able to direct a movie, the genre being anything from historical to paranormal, or even a psychological thriller. Anyway, I realized yesterday as I was talking to a co-worker who is a former film student, with no work in his profession, that with all the contacts I have established with actors in these past few months, through my interviews, if I had the money to make a movie, I probably could do it. But once again, there it is: money. Even independent films are in the millions today, and why I loved this movie so much is because it gives me hope that maybe one day, something will happen, and I will become involved with a film project. But until that day comes, I will just keep doing what I’m doing, figuring, if it is meant to happen, then it will happen; and vice-versa.
Out of the 473 articles I have posted on this site, only one has been about an individual acting performance as opposed to a film as a whole. The recipient of that was Chris Conner, who played John Wilkes Booth in Gods and Generals. There is a catch there, however, because like many others, Conner had to wait more than eight years for the general public to finally view his scenes. This is not one or two minutes we are talking about here, but eight scenes of advanced dialogue and monumental importance. Booth’s role, as he shows the truer, less politically correct side of the famous actor who became an assassin, provides the “Greek Chorus” for the American Civil War, as director Ron Maxwell put it to me in our interview.
But as good as he was, his scenes were not spared from hitting the cutting room floor. Because of the massive running time, and the crew scurrying to trim minutes here and there, the entire subplot involving Booth was axed, and as Chris told me in his initial email, he feared his work might have never been seen. As a fan of the film, I can say that the eight year wait was worth it, because Conner did not just have to play Booth, but two Shakespearean title roles in Hamlet and Macbeth, and to a lesser extent, Brutus in Julius Caesar. To be honest, I was never much into Shakespeare until I saw his scenes in this movie. Just listen to the words he recites, as they basically parallel themselves with what is going on in the war. Backstage, we see Booth’s conflict with fellow actor Henry Harrison, who cannot see acting as being as important as being a soldier. But as the film progresses, so does Booth, and thankfully, I am able to get to speak to the actor who played him, Chris Conner, after he contacted me to tell me that he liked this blog. Below is our interview:
GC: Where were you when you heard the news that the scenes you filmed would not be making it into the theatrical cut? What was going through your mind?
CC: I think I was back in New York and Ron called me and I think he sent me a note. It was a long time ago, but it was nice of him to contact me and let me know. I have friends who have shown up at the opening of films thinking they’re going to watch their work, only to be shocked as they slowly realize they are no longer in the film. It could be an awkward moment trying to explain to your date, “I swear. I was in that movie!! Don’t leave…”. Only two people in fifteen years of being an actor have contacted me personally with “bad” news. George Clooney let me know I didn’t get a part I auditioned for in something he was producing and Ron Maxwell let me know they had to cut the Booth subplot. It’s just the right thing to do and shows a lot of class. It sucked to be cut out, but I totally understood why. It’s the nature of the business. I have gotten pretty good at not personalizing what happens in show business.
GC: What did you do in preparation for your role as one of America’s most notorious figures?
CC: A couple of things: A lot of reading historical accounts and theories, John Wilkes Booth’s own writing, and his sister’s. I still read about him. I’ll probably read My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone—I think it was published last year and it sounds interesting. I watched and listened to a few other people portray him. Just a few I remember seeing were Rob Morrow, Victor Garber, and even Jack Lemmon on a TV show in 1954, which you can see at the Museum of Radio and Television. They were all cool to watch, but not much help. My favorite bit of research was when I went down to Harford County, Maryland and into Washington D.C. across to Richmond finding some of his old haunts. We are such a young country and some of them are still there. And it also gave me a great excuse to eat my way from Maryland into Virginia. There is some great food all along the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. Can we just talk about Millies in Richmond! A truly great breakfast—great grits and that ham…wow! I’m hungry!
GC: Did you know anything about Booth or the Civil War prior to your involvement in the film?
CC: I had a simple grasp of the facts. But learned a lot of the details and acquired a greater understanding of how we became the “United States of America” because of working on G & G. Ron is professorial by nature and would impart quite a bit of knowledge along the way.
GC: Was it difficult, not only preparing to play Booth, but Hamlet and Macbeth as well?
CC: Difficult? No. It was a ball! I got to play a famous actor playing famous roles. Shakespeare in any form at any time is such a treat to get to work on. And the text that Ron put together was like a “Greatest Hits” album of Shakespeare.
GC:You have eight scenes in the film. Which is your favorite and why?
CC: I don’t have a favorite. I enjoyed working on each one. I do remember that I really enjoyed watching some of the other actors in the movie. I remember sitting off to the side and watching (just to name a few) Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels, and Kali Rocha work. That was just cool. And my first day was a large scene with a lot of reenactors everywhere—the passion that they had to be part of the process of bringing this story to light was just inspiring; very cool.
GC: Do you have any upcoming film/television projects?
CC: I just got home from shooting an Independent film with Matt Letscher from Gettysburg and G & G. It’s called Teacher of the Year, and Matt was a blast to work with—a really good actor. Hopefully, that will have a life of its own. And I think I’ll do a play soon, either in the Bay Area or down in Los Angeles.
I would like to thank Chris for taking the time to conduct this interview, and [obviously] highly recommend that you all check out the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut. And if you do not have five hours to spare, just skip straight to his scenes—you will not be disappointed! I would also like to wish him luck in all of his future ventures!
I. Opening Thoughts
At first, I was going to title this article “What Would it Take to Make The Last Full Measure?”, but we all know what it would take: money, lots and lots of money. We know the interest level is there, after seeing the glowing reviews and remarks regarding the release of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut, as well as the Civil War’s 150th Anniversary being commemorated from 2011-2015. The problem we have here is the immense budget it would take to finance, somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million, the same amount it took to make the prequel. With Ted Turner losing so much money at the initial box office failure, he is probably not interested in taking another gamble, because if he was, he might have done so already. Perhaps, if someone came up with around $30 million, he would match it, but of course, that person or group is elusive.
The only way this film gets made is if we prove to that mystery man out there that this project can be successful after all, either as a three-hour movie (any more than that would spell doom, if it does not already) or television mini-series event. With To Appomattox, an upcoming creation to television, promising to be all the rage in 2013, I would lean towards a feature film. This has its trouble, and will no doubt be mocked by the same people who balked at a three-hour and forty minute Gods and Generals in 2003. Would this project too, be killed before it even reached the silver screen? Or would it be looked upon as the necessary completion to the all-important Civil War trilogy, a more fitting statement? The one and only way to find out is to get the ball rolling and the juices flowing, which I hope this article will somehow do. We all know that getting the cast of thousands would not be difficult because of the never-ending devotion of Civil War reenactors, who pay their own way just to help accomplish something in the name of education. Aside from the aforementioned money, there is also a problem with the casting, because of course, as fans of the two films, we would want to see actor reprisals. Due to the age gap between films, this is easier said than done, but I shall elaborate further later on.
“…I sat next to [Ted] Turner all day, when we filmed the Vaudeville sequence [in Gods and Generals], that he made his cameo in, and so I talked to him pretty much all day, and one of the things he said was, “If we break even, or even if we don’t lose too much money, as soon as we’re finished, we’ll start The Last Full Measure,” but of course, it lost a lot of money. I’ve often thought, even while we were filming it, that it would have made a better mini-series, like Band of Brothers, because there is so much information. It’s great for someone who loves the Civil War, who is an aficionado, and reenactors will watch anything, and even though I’m not a reenactor, I will watch anything on the Civil War.”- Patrick Gorman (March 26, 2011)
“…the thing is, there were mistakes made with Gods and Generals that I would not allow to happen again. If a film is going to be made from The Last Full Measure, I will have much more involvement or there simply won’t be a film…That’s the other thing I hear, and I get letters on this literally every day, people want to know (which was why I put the note on my website) when the third movie is coming out, and it’s like they’re waiting for the shoe to drop because the story needs to be completed. I’ve had people chew me out and say, “Why aren’t you making the third film?” as though somehow I am stopping this. Gods and Generals cost $60 million to make, and if someone comes up with $60 million, fine, let’s talk. But so far it hasn’t happened.”- Jeff Shaara (January 24, 2011)
“…So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.”- Ron Maxwell (July 24, 2011)
III. Production Notes
So there you have it, the “long and the short of it”, so to speak: the dream of making LFM is certainly not dead, but perhaps it is much more complex than we ever could have imagined. I had to go back and re-read the Jeff Shaara interview, and there is a lot more there than I even posted above. To me, he expressed his disappointment and even anger, to a degree. I have no idea who owns the rights to the film project itself, but I would presume it is Shaara. If the film is made, then the filmmakers would have to work something out with him. If this is the case, then LFM would be more like Gettysburg than G & G, because the former was almost word for word, in most instances, with late Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels. Because Gettysburg seems to have a larger fan base, and much larger audience potential, maybe this is not such a bad thing.
In any sense, pre-production would need to begin very soon, and a realistic release date if that happened would probably be 2015, which would appropriately coincide with the end of the Civil War. Because LFM covers the Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and the surrender at Appomattox, this would not be a bad place to start. Maxwell said that he works on “it” everyday, and I will assume he means the screenplay. If that is the case, then a large chunk of time was just saved, because the script would just need to be finished and edited, as opposed to started from the beginning.
At this point in time, because nearly twenty years have passed since Gettysburg, and eight since Gods and Generals, former cast members reprising their roles will be a very difficult task. Robert Duvall is 80 years old and Martin Sheen is now 71. While Sheen could probably pass for Lee, even at that age, I think an entirely new actor would have to be chosen. Could Stephen Lang, with a hair-dye job and grey beard possibly play his third different character in this, the third and final film? Then comes Tommy Lee Jones to mind, and I could definitely see him as Lee once decked out in the uniform with a beard. He would not need to put on a southern accent, and would also bring some much-needed intensity to a film that will involve the end of the war and fall of the Confederacy.
While I admit I have not read LFM as of yet (hence the reason for the question marks scattered through this section), I know that the major characters are Lee, Chamberlain, and a new addition in Ulysses S. Grant. It may be stretching it, but I think Jeff Daniels needs to reprise his role as Chamberlain, even if he looks older than the part. He, essentially, is this Civil War trilogy, and I would sacrifice that small level of authenticity to have him back. It could also be seen as the war aging and changing him, which happens to almost all soldiers.
As Grant, I can see Russell Crowe in the role (can’t we all?), since he was the original choice to play Thomas Jackson in G & G. But as a superstar who would command major money, that might not be an economically feasible option. After scanning various message boards, the name Josh Brolin also popped up to play Grant, which I would label more realistic, depending on how large a budget the film would receive. Now to something I thought of: what about Orlando Bloom? Put a scruffy beard and Ohio accent on him and I definitely see a Grant there (Bloom is now 34 and Grant was 39 when the war began). He would also attract a younger audience that might not have originally wanted to see a Civil War film. I imagine Lang’s name mentioned for this as well, but I just do not see him there. Does Pickett figure in as a prominent character with more than a couple of lines? If so, then he can continue where he left off from Gettysburg in that role. What about Sherman, is he in this as well? Lang could fit their too, which shows his versatility.
For the supporting cast, I would very much like to see Bruce Boxleitner back as Longstreet, because with a beard, you really would not notice much of an age difference, if there is any to begin with (having spoken to him at the Premiere, I would say that he looks very good). Chris Conner is also still young enough to come back as John Wilkes Booth, so we can see the completion of his transformation from angry actor to assassin. Though he had limited screen time in the director’s cut of G & G, Christian Kauffman played Lincoln well enough to be back for the sequel (heck, I can even see Lang there too). C. Thomas Howell and Brian Mallon back in their roles as Chamberlain’s brother and General Hancock? I would not have it any other way. I would like to see Patrick Gorman back as well, but in a much different role than General Hood. I would also, most definitely, want to see Mira Sorvino return as Fanny Chamberlain, because I have heard she would have some decent screen-time if the book became a movie. Because Buster Kilrain was killed off in the second film, where would Kevin Conway fit? I would want back him in a different capacity. Could we also get Jeremy Irons involved in some way? He is one of my favorite actors, and when I see him, the word “warrior” always comes to mind. What about Dennis Quaid too, Bo Brinkman’s cousin, who has worked with Maxwell previously in The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia?
All in all, there is definitely a lot of work to be done here, but that is why we have casting directors! I am glad this is not my job, because what an ordeal it would be. Below would be my final cast list of some of the characters. I hope to read LFM very soon, but until then, this is what I have drawn from the messy paragraphs above:
Robert E. Lee….. Tommy Lee Jones
Joshua L. Chamberlain….. Jeff Daniels
Ulysses S. Grant….. Orlando Bloom
[Special Appearance ala Sam Elliot in Gettysburg]….. Dennis Quaid
James Longstreet….. Bruce Boxleitner
George Pickett/ William T. Sherman [?]….. Stephen Lang
Fanny Chamberlain….. Mira Sorvino
John Wilkes Booth….. Chris Conner
Winfield Scott Hancock….. Brian Mallon
Thomas Chamberlain….. C. Thomas Howell
Walter Taylor….. Bo Brinkman
Abraham Lincoln….. Christian Kauffman
[?]….. Patrick Gorman
[?]….. Kevin Conway
V. Final Thoughts
Now that my manifesto is complete, I would like to invite the readers of this blog to make their own casting selections in the comment section below. Perhaps yours will even be more accurate, if you have read the novel and have a feel for it. I really wish that I had the time to sit down and read it, but maybe I can accomplish it the last week of August, when I have some time off before school starts up again. It was a lot of fun casting this movie, the same amount of fun it is dreaming that this film can be made. It is out of our hands, not just we as fans, but Maxwell’s and Shaara’s as well. The two people who want this film made the most have to wait for a door to open in the financing department. We have waited many years, and even if this film does get made, we will wait some more, but either way you look at it, these next for years are now or never for The Last Full Measure.
(NEW!) VI. Jeff Shaara Responds to Article
“…I own 50% of the film rights to the book. Ron Maxwell owns the other 50%. Thus, for any film to be made, we would both be included in the contract. I respect Ron’s passion for seeing LFM put onto film. I think LFM is a far better story than Gods and Generals, and would make a better film. But keeping a positive outlook isn’t the primary requirement to getting this film made. I continue to believe that with the box-office (and critical) failure of G& G, a golden opportunity was lost for all of us, that Ted Turner was definitely “the man” who should have put the final capstone on the trilogy. Now, we’ll see. My fingers are crossed.” (8/4/11)
After sending out a few interview requests last night to actors who appeared in Gods and Generals, I must say that two were answered in record time. You all know of the upcoming interview with Chris Conner, who played John Wilkes Booth, but there are two more, and I am actually waiting on a few others to respond.
Sean Pratt– Dr. Hunter McGuire
Justin Dray– Pvt. George Jenkins
Below is a list of all G & G cast members I have interviewed on this blog:
Brian Mallon (Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock)
Patrick Gorman (Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood)
Bo Brinkman (Maj. Walter Taylor)
Les Kinsolving (Brig. Gen. William Barksdale)
Benjamin Kullman (Extra and “Core Reenactor” Member)
Bruce Boxleitner (Lt. Gen. James Longstreet)
Alex Hyde-White (Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside)
David Foster (Capt. James Ricketts)
Matt K. Miller (Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin)
When Ron Maxwell told me that the cast of Gods and Generals knew who I was, I guess he was not kidding around. This afternoon, I received two emails, almost back to back, from two cast members of the film, each telling me that they liked my site. The first, was Matt K. Miller, who portrayed Union General Charles Griffin, whose scene appears in the middle of the battle of Fredericksburg. Like many others, his was cut from the original theatrical version before it was restored in the newly released Extended Director’s Cut (you can view it here). The second shout-out comes from the most talked-about addition to the film, and that is Chris Conner and his performance as John Wilkes Booth. This was the email I received from him, and I must say, it was a pleasant surprise to find in my inbox after sitting outside baking in the sun during an uneventful yard sale this afternoon:
Hello Mr. Caggiano,
I was pointed in the direction of your blog and just wanted to say thanks for the shout-out. I thought my work as John Wilkes Booth would remain unseen. Glad you seemed to like it. I Enjoyed your blog.
The shout-out on my part that he is referring to is the article I wrote on July 10, about his performance and the importance of his character to the new cut. For an opinion essay that was more spur-of-the-moment than planned, it seems that it has been the most widely read amongst the actors and crew-members I have talked to, including Maxwell himself, who told me personally that he enjoyed it. In addition to this nice email, Chris has agreed to let me interview him, and I will be emailing my questions shortly. I have also asked Matt for an interview, but depending on how busy he is, I cannot say whether or not it will happen.
It is the little things like this that keep us bloggers going. Sure, attending the premiere was a fantastic and once in a lifetime experience that I will be eternally grateful to all those that made it happen, but to actually get feedback on something we have written, by who it was actually written about, that is what we love. It looks like the Gods and Generals coverage just does not want to end here on this blog, and so I will continue to welcome all of these opportunities as they come along.
EDIT (7/21 @ 5:00 PM): Matt has also agreed to do an interview, and I will be sending him my questions shortly.
Towards the end of the Extended Director’s Cut of Gods and Generals, is a very sophisticated scene, where Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Fanny (Mira Sorvino) meet the acting troupe fresh off a performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in which world-renowned actor John Wilkes Booth plays the character of Brutus, who inserts the final sword thrust into the body of the slain tyrannical emperor. Co-actor Henry T. Harrison (Cooper Huckabee), exerts a mighty announcement upon the death of Caesar: “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead.” The scene is in no doubt a foreshadowing, but before it can be dwelled upon, the Chamberlains have been invited by one of the characters to meet Booth and Harrison after the play, and Mrs. Chamberlain asks Booth a very simple, yet thought-provoking question. She says, “Mr. Booth, tell me, do you think of your character as the hero or villain of the play?” Booth is at a loss for words, and consults Harrison before answering, “It is for the audience to decide who is hero and who is villain. We simply play the parts allotted to us.” This quote, however trivial to the naked ear, is the driving force behind the entire film.
The reason why G & G is so brilliant is because it portrays both sides as being right, despite the negative and not-so-truthful reviews stating that the sentiment is stilted towards the Confederacy. Though they indeed get more screen-time, both they and the Union Army are given equal treatment in regards to which cause is the just one in the disastrous struggle of war. The added subplot involving John Wilkes Booth only adds to a film which prompts the audience to think. Students grow up learning that the Confederacy was evil, essentially, and Booth was a psychopathic monster who murdered our 16th president. Because our education system is not at the caliber it should be, questions go unanswered. When I am in a classroom teaching, the point of my presence is not to just give facts, it is to give reasons behind them. You can only bring up the death of a person or group of people so many times and say that it is terrible before people, namely, the young men and women of America, become bored and ask, “So what?”. If you want to spark interest, you cannot go for the what, you have to go for the why.
Why did Booth assassinate Lincoln? Did he just wake up one morning, and on a whim, decide to load his pistol, sneak into the back of Ford’s Theater, and shoot the President in the back of the head? No, it was a slow build-up of events and ideas that lead to his thinking. But no one wants to know about this; no one wants to ask why. There is an American Heritage book on the Civil War that I own from the 1960′s, and the exact words used to describe Booth are “insane assassin”. That is all; one paragraph about the killing, and Booth is given his usual demonized and vilified, and always brief, treatment. The fact of the matter is, Booth was not insane, nor was he a monster, or a murdering robot as the minuscule paragraphs of biased history textbooks portray him. He was, in fact, a man, a famous one at that, who grew heated over Lincoln’s politics and decided to do something about it. While we can all agree that killing a president is far from being right, was Booth, at one point, the most photographed man in America, acting in a moment of insanity or patriotism? That is a question we can answer on our own, after thinking about it for a while, but the portrayal in this film is the most truthful one ever shown in any setting.
Right off the bat in his first scene, Booth is seen as a superstar when he is mobbed by a group of beautiful young ladies who ask for his autograph and quote lines from Richard III, pretending to be interested in Shakespeare, but Booth can tell all they really care about are his attractive looks. Booth has plenty of sex appeal, because he was, after all, the sex symbol of his day. It is hard to fathom, with anyone for that matter, being regarded as sexy when all we have are soon-to-be 150 year old grainy black-and-white photographs.
The acting put forth by Chris Conner in the role is nothing short of exhilarating. When you think about it, Conner is not just playing Booth in this film, he is playing Kings Hamlet and Macbeth as well, because of the advanced lines of dialogue in the two soliloquies he delivers. The first, is spoken overlaid with shots of dead bodies on the Antietam battlefield, where Hamlet’s character remarks that he can see a field of “twenty-thousand men” who “go to their graves like beds; fight for a plot.” It is only by extreme irony that in real life, he was giving this performance at McVicker’s Theater in Chicago on the same date as Antietam, the deadliest day in American history, September 17, 1862. Later on in the film, we get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, as Mary Todd is raving about Booth being in Washington City for the entire month of April, 1863. The Lincolns have heard how magnificent his plays are, and cannot wait to see his performance in Macbeth. This is an excellent scene, not just for the carriage ride where the Lincoln’s discuss Booth, but the ensuing stage scene. Before it cuts to the theater, Honest Abe says, “I hear Booth does the death scene spectacularly; very physical, wilder than his brother Edwin!” Then, in a classic instance of the tongue-in-cheek humor Lincoln was famous for, he adds, “But that is the one reproach I have of Shakespeare’s heroes.” “What reproach is that dear?” asks Mary Todd. “They all make long speeches when they are killed.”
Booth then is seen on stage, reciting the “Dagger of the Mind” soliloquy. There is a reason why this was chosen, of all parts of Macbeth to pick. It is again ironic, because it works both for historical and poetic reasons. This speech, talks about there being a threat living amongst them, and while Booth pulls out a dagger, his eyes lock with Lincoln’s, who is sitting up in a private box. The overall effect is dramatic, and haunting, with the beautiful and eerie music composed by John Frizzell building up in the background. This is enhanced when you realize that this is reported to have actually happened, and even the ensuing incident, when a stagehand comes to Booth’s dressing room after the performance and tells him that the President and First Lady enjoyed the show, and want to meet him. Rather than come up with an excuse, Booth blatantly tells the man, “You may tell that tyrant, that destroyer of civil liberties, that war monger, that I am in dispose,” before begrudgingly changing his mind to have the stagehand tell the President that he had already left for the evening.
Earlier in the film, Booth is there to give the audience a dose of reality. Well, not really him, per se, but a lady friend he is dining with after Hamlet. He calls Lincoln “mad” for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, because he believes it will incite a slave uprising, before he is reminded by the woman that the document will only free slaves in rebellious states, the same states that Lincoln had no jurisdiction over. This brief conversation is there to properly teach audiences that the famed Proclamation did not free all the slaves, as we incorrectly learned growing up. If that was the case, slave-holding Union states such as Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri might have seceded from the North, and Lincoln could not have taken that chance. Of course, critics will have something negative to say about this, but since it is actually the truth, I wonder what they will draw up this time.
No other film has ever portrayed Booth in this light, because whether or not you agree with his politics present in those certain scenes, you can tell that he is sincere, and there is no insanity present in his tone of voice; it is just his very strong opinion, which as an American citizen, he was allowed to have. It can be fully expected some people—in all likelihood, the same people who decried the film back in 2003 with overwhelmingly negative reviews—will attack the insertion of these scenes as yet another instance of pro-south propaganda, but it is far from that, because it is the truth. Had The Last Full Measure been made, it would have shown the culmination of the development of Booth’s transformation from angry actor to assassin, thus helping the audience to fully understand why he killed Abraham Lincoln. But unfortunately, the sequel to the trilogy will probably not be made, and we will just have to hope audiences can handle a man with such a diabolical persona being shown in a light that is inconvenient to them, because what do we do, as a society, when someone is a threat to the lies told in history books? We bury it from plain sight. Just as certain figures in Hollywood tried to bury Gods and Generals and see to a quick bow-out eight years ago, it will be brought up yet again as more audiences view this extended cut.
We can only hope that the brilliance of Chris Conner will not be overshadowed. We can only hope that audiences will embrace John Wilkes Booth, if only for four hours and forty minutes out of their entire lives. This film is not selling Booth the assassin, it is selling Booth the man. Sometimes, when hatred is built up against someone over the course of many generations, it is forgotten that they were human once. This movie has now given us the opportunity to absorb that, and catch a glimpse of what he really was like in the years leading up to his tragic final act in 1865.
For additional reading debunking the not-so-truthful history that we grew up learning, please read this article I wrote last year on the real meaning of the Confederate Flag.
Once again, I would like to thank Warner Brothers for sending me the two films in advance and allowing for this review to take place. This has really been a lot of fun. I would also like to attach a spoiler warning: if you want to be surprised at what scenes are included when you watch it for the first time, do not read this review until after you see it!
When I arrived home from work and found the package had arrived containing the two films I so anxiously awaited to see, I knew my anticipation was going to be soon over. I quickly brought them in the house and opened them up, wanting to watch them right then and there. Instead, I waited a couple of hours, not able to come to the realization of what I was actually holding in my hand. This is the version of Gods and Generals that we have heard so much about, and done our fair share of speculation over. What scenes were coming in? What new characters will there be? Will the Antietam battle scene live up to its reputation spread by the very few who had seen it? Over the next five and a half hours, after taking breaks to jot down notes and walk around, the four hours and forty minutes of brilliance would answer all those questions, and leave me satisfied.
At first, I was not going to take any notes, because I waited so long and wanted to enjoy it, but when the new footage began to flow fast and furiously, I had no choice but to write down what was going on. The first thing that the audience will notice is that the film is broken down into five parts: Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Moss Neck, and Chancellorsville. This definitely serves to guide the film, and almost makes each section seem like acts from a play, very fitting when you consider the scope of this film and screenplay is Shakespearean in nature. As you will read below, the Antietam scene blew me away, and the newly added John Wilkes Booth character was absolutely fantastic. But what caught my attention was not the addition of new material, but the subtraction of some. Not only are some scenes extended, but some are shortened, and two (that I counted, could have been more) are eliminated all together. Many people said the reason why they found the original boring was because of the constant praying and preaching, and director Ron Maxwell took care of all of that here.
Before the actual review of content, I want to make note of the technical aspects of the Blu Ray presentation. The picture itself was masterfully enhanced and the colors enriched, while the sound is so realistic and absorbing, you will feel like you were picked up and placed right in the middle of the battlefield. Since I already reviewed the theatrical version of this film, this review will focus mostly on the new scenes. Please keep in mind that I could not describe them all, because there were too many, but these were what I felt were the best and most important.
Part One: Bull Run
The first new footage that makes its way in is the highly anticipated insertion of the John Wilkes Booth character, played by Chris Conner, who figures quite prominently throughout the entire film, in five or six scenes. We see him make a speech to some Confederate recruits, citing a line of Shakespeare, but not before signing some autographs for the herds of beautiful young women who flock to see the superstar actor. The portrayal of Booth in this film was so important, because we see what he was really like, before his intense hatred of Lincoln began. He was young, charismatic, and patriotic—most likely the major sex symbol of his day as well. He was not the raving mad lunatic that history tries to paint him as, and here we see the human side of him.
A good scene involving Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, captured by the wonderful Stephen Lang, involves him wanting to purchase a horse. Initially, he intends to give the horse he names “Little Sorrel” to his wife, but keeps him, after telling Pendleton (Jeremy London) that he is “even-tempered”. Several shots are also shown of him riding the horse in the Virginia countryside.
Now we get to a major change involving the original footage. The scene where Jackson prays on the eve of battle was removed entirely, and there is no music playing when his soldiers come out of the woods and on to Henry House Hill. As soon as I saw this, I knew that this cut would be for real. The removal of the prayer kept the pace of the film going more evenly, and allowed for the battle of First Bull Run to be fought with intensity, without the audience having to bring themselves up from listening to Jackson.
Part Two: Antietam
I swear, that when the title card for this part came on the screen, I got goosebumps. For the next hour or so, this would be the section that has the most added footage. John Wilkes Booth makes his second appearance backstage, having a conversation with our good friend Henry T. Harrison, played by Cooper Huckabee, who you will remember as Longstreet’s spy in Gettysburg. We then move to Centreville where Jackson informs his men about his promotion to Major General and transfer to the Shenandoah Valley. His men are upset by this, because the brigade will have to remain, but they say how they will petition to get transferred with him. This makes a coming scene, where he gives his “First Brigade” speech to his men on horseback, have more meaning and clarify a lot. There is also extended dialogue between Jackson and his wife Anna (Kali Rocha) as they are laying in bed, after she visits him.
The Union then makes their entrance, with the already released “Camp Mason” deleted scene. There is a new scene involving Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his superior officer Adelbert Ames (Matt Letscher), whose character was greatly expanded in several scenes, when they discuss tactics and their importance. Ames also remarks that he heard how smart Chamberlain is, and says that he will be able to master whatever duty he is given. Ames also tests Chamberlain’s brother, played by C. Thomas Howell, on the steps in loading a rifle.
Robert E. Lee, played hauntingly well by Robert Duvall, then holds his first council of war, to tell his generals of his Maryland invasion plans. Just like in Gettysburg, Longstreet (Bruce Boxleitner) warns him of the risks, while Jackson is excited for the opportunity.
Now to the part everybody is waiting for, the actual battle scene, and it begins rather unexpectedly. The scene where Chamberlain and Kilrain (Kevin Conway) meet for the first time is expanded, and leads right into the battle, as that meeting was supposed to be on the morning of September 17th. Ames joins Chamberlain and they hear cannon fire in the background. Having never been in battle before, he is nervous, but Ames tells him it is just the artillery feeling each other out—this is really quite unassuming when you consider the bloodshed about to occur. Howell also keeps his humor, when he confronts his brother and says that he has gained weight even with a diet of hardtack and “worms”, as he puts it. The scene then cuts to blasting cannons when all hell breaks loose.
When the battle begins, Lee rides to his artillerymen and tells them how important they are. We then go right into the cornfield, where yes, I will announce it, we have the best battle footage of the entire movie (it even trumps my much loved Fredericksburg). The fighting is fierce and brutal, and the pace of the entire sequence is frantic, making you uneasy because so much is going on. There is no gallantry at Antietam, just horror. The two sides advance and blast away at each other, the bullets shredding the stalks of corn and tearing through arms and legs of the men. There are more bullet entry effects in these five minutes than the rest of the film, and perhaps that is why it was removed—I’m beginning to think the MPAA was a lot more strict back then, and in 2003 this would have made it an R-rated film. The effects here are top-notch. There is one shot of a bullet going through a man’s canteen and sending water everywhere. The artillery effects are also spectacular, and men go flying when the explosions occur.
Two of the characters I interviewed, Brian Mallon as Hancock and Patrick Gorman as Hood, also get more screen-time here. In just about twenty seconds, Hood will give you the feeling of such realism. Pendleton rides to him and asks how long he can hold, and Hood barely even looks at him and gives a half-hearted salute, because he is too busy watching his Texas infantry get slaughtered in the cornfield. Hancock gets his addition when he confronts the added character of George McClellan (James Parkes) rather unenthusiastically. I will not quote what is said between the two, but McClellan has the air of arrogance about him, and I only wish he got more screen-time, because as a person, he was so complex. There is also a scene revolving Jackson and a close call with a cannonball. However, I will not ruin that for you—you will have to see it for yourself!
Just like in Fredericksburg, Kilrain and Tom have their little wise-crack. The younger of the two says that it would be hard to kill a sergeant (their rank) because there are two men standing in front of them. The old Irishman then says, rather bluntly, “A sergeant only fires his weapon when the men in front of him are killed.” Unfortunately, the two brief scenes in the cornfield is all the fighting we get here. That is the only part of the film that really disappointed me—I guess I was expecting a longer battle scene, but it is my own fault for assuming as much. Nevertheless, the intensity present in just ten minutes or so was so great, that I actually had to watch the scene a second time when it was completed.
When the battle comes to a close, Ames rides and tells the men that they will not be needed. He makes a slight dig at McClellan, for failing to use all his men, and noting how nothing was accomplished by either side, and the losses were so great. It then cuts to Booth, performing on stage, and what he is reciting is played over a pan shot of dead soldiers, with the words matching pretty closely to what is shown. We then see him eating dinner with a lady friend, where he calls Lincoln mad for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. But it is the lady who steals the scene, when she says the truth about the proclamation, and how it did not really free anyone. Later on, we meet the character of Prussian general Heros Von Borcke (Matt Lindquist), who joins the Confederates and is a friend of J.E.B Stuart (Joseph Fuqua). Here he presents Jackson with a new uniform, a gift from Stuart, and makes him try it on. His character is quite funny, and is in one or two more scenes.
Part Three: Fredericksburg
It was at this point in the viewing, when I looked down at the player and saw there was about two more hours left, that I knew I needed some coffee. Thankfully, I was able to put the notebook down for most of this part, because it was left relatively unchanged. There is one line I like from Pendleton, though, when he tells Lee how far away Jackson is, and how quickly they will arrive. Lee asks something to the effect of, “What are his men made of?” The response is, “It’s General Jackson, sir. For him, dawn begins a minute after midnight.”
While the battle scene was pretty much unedited, there was one thing I did not understand. During the shelling of the city, when the Beales’ and Martha’s family are hiding in the cellar, and there is a knock at the door, the line Martha (Donzaleigh Abernathy) speaks is overdubbed and changed. Rather than, “Praise be, it’s young John.” it goes to, “Praise be, it’s Master John.” Perhaps this was to clarify her place as a slave within the household, though she is treated rather well.
During the scene where the generals meet beforehand, there is about five seconds of dialogue added where Stuart remarks to Jackson that he likes his new uniform. Jackson’s mannerisms make him appear more human, and the added footage really takes him down a notch from where he was, making the emotionless commander a bit more likeable, though that is how he was in real life. There is also a small, yet rousing speech given by James Kemper (the late Royce Applegate) to his men before they are deployed to the stonewall at Marye’s Heights.
My only critique here is that I really expected Maxwell to revamp the CGI effects of soldiers marching into battle. They seem to be enhanced slightly, but the superb clarity of Blu Ray does not hide the fact that they all move exactly the same way. This was scoffed at in the original, and I have no doubt it will be scoffed at by many here too.
Part Four: Moss Neck
The one section of the film that I thought the original could have done without was the telling of Jackson and his men and their dealings with the family at Moss Neck Manor. But once again, because the storyline is expanded, it fits right in and rather smoothly. It actually begins toward the tail end of Fredericksburg (I wonder why they did not wait a little longer) when Hancock brings his injured friend to the makeshift hospital. This is where we see the second bit of dialogue removed completely, as Martha’s quoting of the Book of Esther while caring for the soldier was cut out.
After seeing an insertion of Lee receiving news of Burnside’s retreat from Fredericksburg on December 15, Chamberlain is seen riding talking to a general, who I assume is Joseph Hooker, about the failure of the attack. This is where Ron Maxwell makes his cameo, as a subordinate officer in the background. The next new footage is the already released “Steal Away to Jesus” scene where Jim Lewis (Frankie Faison) talks to a fellow black Confederate soldier about how the other man was given his freedom papers right before his former master was killed in battle.
There are now two new major scenes, where Jackson’s newborn baby is baptized, and the other where we finally have meaning given to the music on the soundtrack titled, “No Photographs”. In a quite humorous sketch, photographers arrive to take a picture of Jackson, saying that they initially came for Lee but he would not have it taken until Jackson does. After much deliberation, he announces that he cannot refuse a request from Lee, and has the picture taken, much to his dismay.
Finally, to cap off Part Four, is the best of the Booth scenes. Abraham Lincoln (Christian Kauffman) and Mary Todd (Rosemary Knower) are riding in a carriage on their way to the theater, talking about how wonderful an actor Booth is, and how they are excited to see him perform Macbeth that night. Here, Booth gives the much-anticipated “Dagger of the Mind” soliloquy, where at one point, while raising the dagger, he looks Lincoln directly in the eye. When the performance is through, Booth is backstage smoking a cigar with Harrison when a worker tells him that the President wants to meet him. Booth responds, “Tell that tyrant…that destroyer of civil liberties…that war monger, that I am in dispose. Better yet, tell him nothing. That I have gone for the night.”
Part Five: Chancellorsville
While the battle scene was left alone, as far as I could tell, there is a lot of added dialogue. The first is before and after the Wilderness strategy discussion and the other is Jim Lewis talking to Von Borcke about Jackson’s eccentricities with prayer.
After Jackson is wounded, we see the rest of the footage. John Wilkes Booth makes his exeunt, with a performance in Julius Caesar, as Brutus, in which Chamberlain and his wife Fanny (Mira Sorvino) are in attendance. The two meet Booth and Harrison after the play, but Booth does not speak to the Colonel, just his wife. When they leave, Harrison becomes enamored with Chamberlain’s bravery, and then begins to talk about wanting to become a soldier. He calls it “an honor” to be killed by a man like Chamberlain, and despite Booth trying to dissuade him, it leaves off with Harrison ready to join the army (which he does, because of where he is in Gettysburg).
Jackson’s death has some minor edits as well. There is a small hymn sung while at his deathbed. After he dies, the funeral procession is shortened and the ending is slightly altered—I will not spoil that one for you, because it is quite somber. If you were teary-eyed at the end of the original, you will experience the same here.
To give this movie a number rating would not do it justice. Let’s just say that I am more than thrilled with the production that we have all waited eight years to see in its entirety. Personally, I think it was worth the wait, though I wish it was cut by a few years! The story flows a lot better and the cuts made, along with the additions, really help the audience stay focused. This was the masterful epic story that was meant to be told, and I am sure all who enjoyed the theatrical version will be head-over-heels with this one. The only thing that makes me sad about this was the fact that so much had to be put off. Because Conner put so much into the Booth character, and Harrison was so likeable in the sequel, it’s a shame that they had to wait eight years for their performances to be seen, but better late than never I guess.
For the critics that dismissed it the first time, give it another shot. Gods and Generals has been enhanced and revamped from start to finish, and it is worth a try. It will probably take another viewing or two for it all to sink in for me, but I am very happy right now to be able to have reviewed this for all of you—I hope it has wet your appetites even more. There will be no better way to commemorate this 150th anniversary of the American Civil War than to watch this film. There is so much passion behind every scene, not only because of the painstaking attention to detail, but the adventure it must have been to finally produce this project. To Ronald Maxwell, I have just two words to say: “Thank you”.
Own Gods and Generals on Blu Ray May 24th! Until then, some more of the deleted scenes have been put online. Check them out!
EDIT: Click here to read some additional follow-up to this review.
The officiating picked up right where it left off the last time the New York Rangers squared off against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was just weeks ago at the Consol Energy Center in Steel Town where the Penguins were handed six powerplays to the Rangers’ zero, all while the referees missed several offenses against the Blueshirts that almost caused the Rangers to lose the game. Luckily, they responded and defeated the Penguins 3-2 in overtime.
Tonight, though, the Rangers would not be so lucky. Even though the officiating did not directly result in the Rangers losing this game, 3-1, it is worthy to note of a horrendous call made against Ryan Callahan in the first period, to be explained below. The Rangers looked very tired tonight, on the heels of a 17 games in 30 days stretch. But that is no excuse, and the Rangers could not generate even the slightest hint of offense.
- First period: Maxime Talbot would open the scoring a little more than five minutes in on a very odd play. The puck had deflected up into the air and was temporarily gloved by Ruslan Fedotenko. The puck would then fall out of his glove and roll right to Talbot, who quickly shot it past Lundqvist. Aside from that goal, the period was offensively stagnant and shots were only 8-6 in favor of the Rangers. However, this period would also see one of the most ridiculous and hysterically bad calls of the season, if not since the Crosby era began in Pittsburgh. This was a call so bad that it made the last time these two teams played against each other look like child’s play. With five minutes remaining, Crosby became entangled with Ryan Callahan, who he then slew-footed to the ice. Rather than call Crosby for a dangerously bad penalty, the officials decide to call Callahan for interference. Brandon Dubinsky, in his intermission interview would tell John Giannone, “That’s the type of player he is.” and “Yeah, I mean that’s just a dirty play.…he tries to get away with all that kind of nonsense and complains a lot.” Truer words have never been spoken to laughably bad interviewer John Gianonne.
- Second period: If the Rangers play looked bad in the first, it would get even worse in the second. Still, neither team would look too hot on offense, though around the midway point, the teams traded chances with the Penguins getting several odd-man rushes. With eight minutes remaining, Kris Letang would put the Penguins up by a deuce, and just over a minute later, Chris Conner would score their third goal of the game. Conner now has three goals on five shots in his career against Henrik Lundqvist. Three seconds after the third goal, Sean Avery would drop the gloves with Tyler Kennedy, handily defeating him and knocking him to the ice. Late in the period, the Rangers would finally break through, when Michal Rozsival hit Marian Gaborik (5) with a pass mid-stride, who then skated in and flicked his deadly wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury.
- Third period: Tonight’s game would end with the same score that was on the board heading into the period. The Rangers would have plenty of chances, including two powerplays, but they failed on both and did not even garner a good scoring chance. They would record a game-high 12 shots in the third period, but way too many missed the net, including some with the man advantage. This would lead to their downfall tonight, as Fleury was having problems with rebound control all game long, and the Rangers could only muster up 26 shots on goal. It seems that has been the theme of late—don’t shoot if it looks like the opposing goalie is having an off-night.
The Rangers showed tonight that they desperately need to practice two things: the powerplay and taking faceoffs. Watching the Rangers a man up is like watching the Keystone Cops on ice. They do not generate any chances, they pass until they’re blue in the face, and when they get an opportunity, they shoot it wide. As for faceoffs, they rank 29th in the league; nothing else needs to be said in that regard.
The Messiah was also finally called for a penalty in the third period. Of course, the referees had to send Brandon Prust to the box at the same time for elbowing, making the penalties coincidental.
Consistency still seems to be this season’s quest, as they have yet to find any. There really is not anything else to say—the Rangers play games like night and say. Some are good, others are like tonight.