Glory is the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War, which, other than the officers, was the first regiment composed entirely of African American soldiers. Obviously, in a movie such as this, the issue of race is front and center. Not only were the African American soldiers fighting for their freedom, and the freedom of others in the South, but they were also battling prejudice and bigotry that ran rampant throughout the northern states and the Union Army. Throughout the entire movie, it’s the personnel in the Union Army who continue to hold the regiment back and not allow them to get proper weapons, equipment, and other necessities which could allow them to succeed. Although he is only in his early twenties, the colonel of the regiment, Robert Gould Shaw, played by Matthew Broderick, understands that in order for his regiment to be given a chance they can’t just be as good as the other Union troops, they must be better. He also learns, with some guidance by Sergeant Major Rawlins, portrayed by Morgan Freeman, how to gain the trust, respect, and loyalty of his men. This learning process is portrayed brilliantly by Broderick in an underrated role. It is interesting to note that when he was first tabbed for this part there was a lot of criticism because he was only three years removed from Ferris Buellers Day Off, and it was felt by some that he was incapable of playing a role of this type. His critics were certainly proven wrong.
Denzel Washington, who is incredible in any role, won his first Oscar playing Tripp, a former slave turned soldier who is carrying around years of hate, anger, and frustration, and is looking for an outlet for these emotions. He manages to take them out on everyone, including his fellow soldiers, before he finally begins to see that being out of control and angry at the world is not the most productive way to handle himself. Washington masterfully portrays this transformation, showing us the evolution of Tripp from an angry man to one who learns to trust, love, and respect his fellow soldiers, regardless of race.
What makes Glory so compelling is the assortment of differing views concerning the war, its purpose, and its eventual outcome by the characters themselves. Shaw (Broderick) and his best friend, Major Forbes, played by Cary Elwes come to the experience with one set of expectations and understandings, whereas the soldiers in their regiment, such as Tripp (Washington), Rawlins (Freeman), and Searles, played by Andre Braugher bring an entirely different set of expectations, understandings, and emotions. The brilliance of Glory is how these characters all manage to come together, learn about each other, and respect and care enough for each other to put their lives on the line for one another.
I can’t recommend Glory enough. It isn’t afraid to show the darker side of the world – things like bigotry, hate, and anger, but it also displays what is best in humanity – attributes such as courage, honor, forgiveness, and sacrifice, On top of this, Glory is also a visually stunning movie, with a couple of battle sequences that give you a real taste of what it might have been like to be on a Civil War battlefield (thus the Oscars for Cinematography and Sound). Even the soundtrack composed by James Horner and featuring the Boys Choir of Harlem is incredible. If you have not seen Glory, be sure to check it out from our collection as soon as you get the chance. (122 minutes, Rated R)