Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Glory (1989) >>

Though ranging from factually misrepresentative to essentially truthful, film critics of Glory all agree on one thing: the film is not historically flawless, but in the end it breaks ground in carrying its message of the role blacks played in the success of the North in the Civil War. The critic audience is divided over the quality of Glory's acting, writing, and direction but concur that the production was a success in realizing the brutality and accuracy of the battlefield sequences. There is heavy emphasis on the superb performances of the film's marginal characters, played by Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, but lack of support and appreciation for the effort Matthew Broderick puts forth.

Ansen, David. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Newsweek 18 December 1989: 73.
Ansen's review is luke-warm. He criticizes the film as historically inaccurate, maudlin, and over-reliant on the musical store to score emotional points with the audience. Very positive, though, were the performances of Freeman, Washington, and Braugher, but he labeled Broderick's performance as "tentative." The movie is intelligent and demands attention because it opened our eyes to a little known topic.
Berardinelli, James. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. [Archived]
Berardinelli lends nothing but acclaim to the script, acting, directing, and purpose of the film. He enthusiastically states that "the historical backdrop against which Glory transpires is mostly historically accurate" and "the characters... never seem less than three dimensional." He gives a brief synopsis and then takes a view very different from other film critics with a claim that "Zwick successfully gives us five distinct points-of-view." He calls this sense of balance one of Glory's strengths, amidst the film's slant on the presence of racism in the north and its theme of brotherhood. One of Berardinelli's statements is truly representative of these two latter points: "In the heat of the fight, men are color blind." He goes on to praise other aspects of Glory's acting, production, and cinematography, in the end calling it an important masterpiece.
Canby, Vincent. "Black Combat Bravery in the Civil War." New York Times 14 December 1989: C15.
Canby's filmic analysis of Glory identifies its effort to accredit a colored regiment that fought and died for its country in the face of racism and patriotic inequality. His praise of the film extends beyond surface characteristics like its acting, writing, and scene direction but stops short of certain production aspects like costumes and makeup -- which he questions as too clean and pretty. He's glad that the complicated film, with its deeper message, comes across in the end as moving and appropriately celebratory.
Denby, David. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. New York 8 January 1990: 61.
Denby criticizes the film as uneven and stiff. There is little mention of the acting, other than to claim that they made the most of their roles, a veiled criticism of the screenplay and/or directing. Denby criticizes the characters as carbon copies of World War II platoon movies and proceeds to describe the characters to fit his assertion. Zwick did not rise to the level of imagination demanded by the subject matter.
Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Chicago Sun Times 12 January 1990.
Ebert provides a generally very positive review of the film. He tells the story of Kevin Jarre's inspiration for the film (i.e. seeing a memorial in Boston Common), provides a brief history of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and summarizes the narrative of the film. Ebert points to the scene in which Shaw refuses his pay in solidarity with his regiment, as a turning point in the film and the relationship between the soldiers and their commanding officer. Ebert also highlights the scene in which Trip tells Shaw that nothing much will change for the black population, regardless of who wins the war. Ebert praises the attention to period detail in the film, but concludes by wondering who such a significant "black" experience was told mostly through the eyes of a white character.
Finkelman, Paul. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Journal of American History December 1990: 1108.
Finkelman begins his review by answering a question: "When [Glory] is available on cassette next year, should history teachers show it in class? Yes." In his overwhelmingly positive review, Finkelman goes on to state that despite some historical flaws, the film tells an important story accurately and contains extremely realistic battle sequences. His minor complaints are that soldiers of the 54th were not runaway slaves as depicted, and that instead of using more realistic and historically relevant soldiers, all of the black characters in the film were fictionalized. Still, he believes, "Glory is probably the best Civil War movie ever made."
Hughton, Jamey. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. [Archived]
Hughton provides perhaps the finest review a film can receive by claiming that Glory is "the greatest film ever made." Hughton praises the acting (including a vehement defense of Broderick), musical score, battle scenes, set design, costuming, and cinematography. Hughton defends the decision to narrate primarily from Shaw's perspective by arguing that his letters are the bulk of the source material, and he points out that Shaw's own point of view is heavily influenced by his volunteers.
McPherson, James. "The Glory Story." New Republic 8 Jan 1990: 22-39.
McPherson calls Glory "not only the first feature film to treat the role of black soldiers in the American Civil War, [but] also the most powerful and historically accurate movie about that war ever made." His review largely examines the history surrounding the Civil War's evolution, how blacks were able to take part in it, and the impact on society to which their war contributions led. McPherson discusses the relationship of Robert Gould Shaw and that of his 54th Massachusetts Regiment had with the greater Union war effort. Though he says the film is not entirely accurate, he also endorses the film's last scene as appropriately ending the colored regiment's story. McPherson further cites Northern newspapers and writers' interpretations of Fort Wagner as a glorious martyrdom, thus supporting the purpose of the movie with direct and immediate reaction from sources of the period. Despite a general agreement and appraisal of Glory's depiction of the 54th, he, like many other reviewers, points out a number of historical flaws, though his versions are not similar to others'.
Morrow, Lance. "Manhood and the Power of Glory." Time 26 February 1990: 68.
Morrow commends Glory for more than simply its historical truth and stunning cinematography but also for its tremendous impact on blacks in the 1990's. "Glory is about black manhood and responsibility," and "Black History Month should be celebrated by watching Glory." His conclusion on the lesson that Glory teaches gives basis for these comments..
Schickel, Richard. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Time 5 December 1989.
Schickel calls Glory a film with "high symbolic significance." He provides a brief semi-account of the plot and laments that the 54th gained respect only after its deadly mission. The film is bold, broad, and blunt.
Simon, John. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. National Review 19 March 1990: 58.
Simon provides a mixed review of the film. He admits that it is understandable to take historical liberties for the sake of drama, but there are excessive fabrications in Glory. He calls the direction of Zwick "not bad" and too reliant on clich├ęs, giving credit for the battle scenes but tempering that praise by asserting that Zwick must have studied earlier Civil War films (providing two examples of films that Zwick may have studied, that were, in his estimation, better films). Simon praised the acting of Broderick but gave higher praise for the performances of Washington, Freeman, Braugher, and Kennedy. He argues that they shined, even though being placed in roles in which they would need to fulfill "black" and "white" stereotypes. Simon concludes by arguing that the acting and the cinematography compensate for the film's other shortcomings.

See Also

Bernard, Jami. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. New York Post 14 December 1989: 37.

Clouds of Glory. Economist 314 (Jan 20, 1990): 105.

Combs, Richard. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Monthly Film Bulletin April 1990: 105.

Howe, Desson. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Washington 12 January 1990.

Johnson, Brian D. "Romancing the wars: military heroism overwhelms two new movies." Maclean's 8 January 1990: 39.

Kelleher, Terry. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Newsday 14 December 1989: 7.

Natale, Richard. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. [Archived]

Novak, Ralph. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. People Weekly 29 January 1990: 19.

Pym, John. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Sight & Sound Spring 1990: 135.

Thomas, Kevin. Rev. of Glory, dir. Edward Zwick. Los Angeles Times 14 December 1989: C1.

Van Biema, David. "Recaptured glory." Life February 1990: 90.