Writer and director Ronald F. Maxwell’s Gettysburg
(1993), from Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels
, was one of the best movies ever made about the Civil War. Sadly, this prequel, from the book by Shaara’s son Jeff, is one of the worst. Gettysburg
managed both to trace the three-day battle and to encapsulate all the issues of the war itself, but this four-hour fiasco is shapeless and dramatically inert. It slogs aimlessly through the first two years of the war and ends with the death of Stonewall Jackson (an excellent but unavailing performance by Stephen Lang, who played Pickett in Gettysburg
). Only the staunchest Civil War buffs will make sense of all the battles—Bull Run, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville—and the blur of uniforms, beards and sideburns. Others will go numb. J.L.