HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:72
It’s been 10 years since Ronald F. Maxwell graced us with another Civil War epic and it’s met with mixed results. I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil War, it is a time of great sadness and great strife, the one and only time that this nation has picked up arms against one another in such a fashion. We have heroes, we have villains and we have a time when we stood up and created one of the first stands against human slavery in this nation. I’m a fan of westerns as well, so this time period in general holds a sweet spot in my cinematic viewing habits. Maxwell first created “Gettysburg”, a sweeping epic that spanned over 4.5 hours in length and followed both the confederate and union armies trials and tribulations. Not long after that we had “Gods and General’s”, the thrilling sequels that had its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, still spanning over 4.5 hours of storytelling. Now, after 10 years, Maxwell is back and tries to tell a much more intimate story, in a much shorter timeframe (both a blessing and a hindrance). Here we have a tale of a small town in Upper New York, one of the bastions of Union pride. The result is a bit hit or miss, as Maxwell tries to show the ugly side of patriotism instead of shiny veneer that most people think of when we look back on the winning side.
In the midst of the Civil war, everyone is taking sides. While we have the Confederates and the Union supporters, there was always that branch of people in the North who didn’t believe in war. We’ve utilized many different terms of these dissenters, they’ve been called “Doves” in the Vietnam era, and during the Civil war they were titled “Copperheads”, implying that there were snakes in the grass. A derogatory phrase it most certainly was, and dissenters in this town were not exactly liked. Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) is the head of his family and a very vocal Copperhead. With the firm believe that Lincoln was waging an illegal war and wrenching the constitution away from the people, he railed against what was, at that point, a very popular war. On the other side we had most of the town folks, glowering over their glasses and hating the Beeches for their anti-war stance. Jeff Beech (Casey Thomas Brown), is caught in the middle, not knowing exactly what to believe, only that he’s in love with Esther Hagadorn (Lucy Boynton), daughter of one of the towns leading abolitionist (Angus Macfadyen). Torn between two masters, Jeff makes the decision to fight for his country and enlist in the Union Army. As a result he is shunned by his father, and never really accepted by his loves father either.
As time goes on, tensions rise, hackles are raised and with the election of several prominent Copperhead politicians, blood begins to boil. Jee Hagadorn, and the town’s members lash out at these supposed snakes in the grass and start something that should never have begun. Burning the Beeches house to the grown, Mr. Hagadorn inadvertently ends up having his daughter get caught up in the blaze. Grief stricken, the two families are left in ashes. One side has seen the destruction of his family, and the other side watches as people he once called friends tore everything around his ears. In the end, there is no winner, only death and sadness.
The story itself is an age old tale, and one that happened across the nation during the war. Brothers did turn on brothers, Copperheads were abused as people felt indignation and betrayal over stances on the way. Human cruelty is not just reserved for the standard “enemy” abroad, but unfortunately can spill out and over those close at home as well. Maxwell TRIES his very best to try and show the devastation that causes, but gets caught up in an anti-war stance that would have worked better with a more subtle touch. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against his anti-war painting, for there are some VERY good anti-war movies, but the problem with a stance like this is that subtlety and a light hand are needed to soften the edges of a very controversial subject. Instead of delicacy we’re treated to a full on assault that’s akin to a sledge hammer to the face. The Copperheads were painted as quiet, peace loving folks who were watching Tyranny run amuck in their beloved country, while the raging abolitionists twirled their mustaches and giggled demonically as they seethed and wished death on everyone. Instead of a fair look at both sides, we have a very obvious villain (the war mongering abolitionists) and a very obvious hero/victim in the peace loving Copperheads. Maxwell tries a little too hard in this aspect, robbing the film of some of its poignancy and impact, with too little too late as the films finale comes to a head. The first hour and a half gives us a nonstop beating of how the Abolitionists are all evil only to try and lay the blame on both sides during the last 30 minutes in an attempt to try and convey that both sides lost sight of brotherly love, resulting in a rather nice, but unconvincing final act. Still, it was an entertaining watch if only to see Maxwell taste in sweeping cinematography. It’s not as long as his previous outings and in a way that hurt the film, for Maxwell does best with long time pieces and some of the relationships seemed a bit rushed. On the flip side the short run time was a blessing, for there’s only so much you can do with the two dimensional caricatures shown before it runs out of steam.
Rated PG-13 for an unsettling sequence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16114[/img]Warner’s 2.40:1 AVC encode is a beauty to behold, and certainly the high point of the film. The film is graded with a golden hue that encapsulates the rustic, earth feeling of the movie, with rich browns and gold’s intermingled with bright greens and oranges bursting onto the screen in all its glory. Skin tones are beautiful and very natural and the contrasts stay well with reasonable bounds (although there were a couple scenes with boosted contrast). The detail is really stunning with great close ups revealing the rustic look of the country garments and the intricacy of that era’s fancy dresses. Every hair on the actor’s heads are visible and every blemish as well, especially a few sequences of razor burn. Black levels are the only weak part of the film, as there are a few dark scenes that look a bit washed out, but those scenes are very few as most scenes look exceptionally inky and well detailed. There are no digital anomalies to report as we have most of the space on the disc given directly to the film itself, given the lack of extras.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16130[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is extremely solid and gives no real room for complaints. The track is extremely detailed, giving us a ton of surround usage as the film opens up the soundstage with the creaks and chirps and rustling of a rustic country town. The wind whistles softly through the grass, giving a light background noise that’s barely detectable, then giving way to the heavy thudding of horse’s hooves upon the packed dirt roads, intermingled with the chirping of the birds. Gunshots thud solidly and the slamming of the doors add some weight to the film, but otherwise it’s a fairly mild use of the LFE channel. There’s no real sounds of war and mayhem to light up the low end, so it’s mainly relegated to adding some depth to the rest of the track, making its presence known, but never stepping up into the spotlight. The dialogue is where the track shines, as it tends to be a very vocals driven track, locked firmly in the center and giving me no point of contentions. Overall, it’s a very impressive track that just doesn’t have a lot of range to go for, due to its drama centered nature.
“Copperheads” is definitely a step down from Maxwell’s previous two outings in this genre and left me feeling a bit disappointed. The film itself and the subject matter was ripe for exploration, but the heavy handed direction that he took tended to bog the movie down with unnecessary posturing in his anti-war stance. It’s still decently entertaining, but the “epic” feeling from the first two installments are gone, as it desperately tries, and tries WAY too hard to be as grand as its older brothers. The video is excellent with very impressive audio, only to be let down with ZERO extras. As much as I loved “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals” I can’t wholeheartedly recommend “Copperheads” as I want to. As such It’s great as a rental, but nothing that I would blind buy.
Starring: François Arnaud, Lucy Boynton, Casey Thomas
Directed by: Ronald F. Maxwell
Written by: Bill Kauffman
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 120 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 15th, 2014
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