Based upon the actual letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, this Civil War drama tells of the formation of the first fully black company of soldiers, led by this white colonel. They must face both the violence of the war itself, as well as the bigotry within their own army, but still come out triumphant.
A stirring, politically correct, glossy old epic about the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the entirely black regiment who lead the fateful charge on Fort Wagner in the Charleston Bay, and provide a helpful short-hand for the contribution of 37,000 African-Americans in the turmoil of the Civil War. Edward Zwick, a director of often stifling earnestness, fills this layered history with a indignant self-righteousness, some terrifically stern acting (Denzel Washington picked up his first Oscar as the jaded former slave Trip), and sensibly had Brit cinematographer Freddie Francis behind the camera. The film manages the trick of feeling authentic while looking grand and operatic.
But the film’s liberal-mindedness is often overbearing. Kevin Jarre’s script shapes its characters as defined archetypes — the angry black man (Washington), the noble black man (Morgan Freeman), the empathetic captain (Matthew Broderick) — rather than as real men with conflicting motivations. Its message is like a trumpet blast, but we shouldn’t ignore that it is an important one. Glory presents America’s birth pangs with determined clarity; that racism is an ill contained in its very make-up.
And there is undoubtedly a thrilling charge to their great triumph. Filmed with blistering power, as the regiment surges down a beach through clouds of cannon-fire, it become starkly clear that heroism is something uninfluenced by colour. It just is. And the film’s misty-eyed simplicity keeps that dead centre.