|Index||5 reviews in total|
I am glad this story was dramatized. It is an excellent, if not frustrating story and it is played out well. I do have to disagree with the portrayal of Johnson Whittaker, though. I do not feel Seth Gilliam did a good job at portraying the conflict, emotion and frustration he must have felt. Scenes with Samuel L Jackson were, as always, excellent. And Sam Waterston was excellent playing a bigoted lawyer conflicted in his feelings towards race and upholding the law. This movie makes you incredulous. But, since it is accurate and based on the court records, gives us a good indication of the incredible injustices that the supposed justice system was upholding in the late 1800s. (I know, it was a court martial, not a trial, but still presumably based on justice.)
This is an important piece of history imaginatively staged. Sam
Waterston executed a bravura performance as the abolitionist and civil
war hero Daniel Chamberlain who liked emancipation but was unwilling to
accept equality. The spencerian social darwinianism which infected
upper caste society was accurately presented, even though as we reach
the twilight of the American era it sounds so childishly stupid. To
people of the time what they said stemmed from scientific fact, the
novel doctrine of evolution which had devolved into a belief that, if
the existing order were not to have been ordained by a Supreme Being,
it was dictated by natural forces over which man had no control.
The cast and writers paid careful attention to the diction of the civil war era which to us today sounds so stiff and formal yet capable of concealing much wry, introspective humor.
The film also brought to the fore an interesting character Asa Bird Gardiner little known out of the limited circles of military law scholars.
Comparable films: Courtmartial of Billy Mitchell, Courtmartial of Jackie Robinson, Caine Mutiny, Hart's War
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*Spoiler/plot- 1994, We meet a determined Black American, Johnson
Whittaker, in Oklahoma that is threatened by the KKK for moving into a
all white neighborhood when a reporter comes calling to get the story.
In a series of 'flash-backs' the homeowner reveals his post Civil War
distinguished history about his attending America's military college,
West Point. He was mercilessly attacked and discriminated against
there. In one occasion he was beaten and cut that lead to the US Army
successfully court-martial him out of the Army and sent to prison. A US
president pardoned him. And his service career was ended to become a
lawyer. The film is mostly about this incident and taken from court
papers showing the institutionalized racism rampant during the Civil
War years for blacks.
*Special Stars- Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Waterston.
*Theme- Racism is only corrected when good people of all backgrounds work together for what is right and just.
*Based on-US Army court-martial transcripts and political agendas.
*Trivia/location/goofs- A TV docudrama from Republic Pictures.
*Emotion- Not preachy but a satisfying illustrative tale to see the extent that racism tainted the US society in those Civil War years. This film is worth your time to get you to think.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a somewhat retro TV movie. It probably should have been made
some years ago, when many people in the USA were unaware of these
issues, basking in fantasies of every man being equal. A black cadet at
West Point is victimized, is blamed for it himself, and discharged from
It's hard to figure out what point the movie is trying to make. It certainly isn't that "it takes all kinds," as the aged Johnson Whittaker says philosophically. Because we only see two in this movie, the simply good and the simply bad. Well, I guess Sam Waterston's lawyer seems like an upright and just man, but even he is revealed as a closet racist at the end.
The problem lies almost entirely with the script. It reads as if it were something that won a high school prize in Dubuque. Points that are already obvious are spelled out for us. Points that could easily have been made visually are put into indignant speeches. The dialog wobbles all over place and time and social register. Sometimes contractions ("won't") are used, sometimes they aren't ("I will not."). Sometimes the dialog is American ("will") and sometimes British ("shall"). Anachronisms are thrown haphazardly into the text. Jackson is made to say things like, "Sham, my a**, they beat the s*** out of him!" And, "You just don't get it, do you?" And -- this one's clever -- "Right now the wind is behind your back, but some day it's going to change and all the s*** you're writing will blow back in your face." Even that's not enough. Jackson has to add, "Some day you are going to eat your words." There's no score worth mentioning. The photography is competent. The acting is generally good, despite the miscasting. Sam Waterston is not a stiff-necked hypocrite and crypto-racist. Sam Waterston is Jack McCoy, and Abraham Lincoln, and Nick Carraway. Jackson does quite well in a clunky role, but someone like Morgan Freeman might have projected more thoughtfulness and masked intensity. The actor in the role of Whittaker as a cadet hasn't got much going for him, but Al Freeman, Jr., as the older Whittaker is professional and dignified, although his final obiter dictum on how the country is doomed if it doesn't shape up soon falls rather heavily to earth. (It's not Freeman's fault.) Two performances are outstanding, though, because the actors ham it up delightfully and bring some absurdity to a project overburdened with solemnity. John Glover is a remarkably slimy and supercilious villain. I love the guy in everything he's been in. He never disappoints -- and he's slightly cross eyed too. The other performance, surprisingly, comes from Mason Adams, whose voice you will recognize from commercials. I will always remember and honor him for the deathless line, "And I thought mustard had to be yellow to be good." He's phenomenal as a Southern racist Harvard-grad lawyer who will brook no nonsense from anybody.
Those performances are among the reasons I can think of to see this film. It will also serve to enlighten those who are unaware of the racism so prominent in our national history. It's a sad truth that so many of us still need that issue brought to our attention.
This was a very good film. The acting was superb and the cinematography was good. The guy who played cadet Wittaker was so good I am amazed he never got an award for his appearance. There is just one problem with the film that kept bugging me for the entire film. The movie is supposed to be about a cadet from the US Military Academy at West Point, NY, and it was supposed to have several flash backs to the that prestigious Academy, but apparently the makers of this film made these scenes not at West Point...but at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA. IT is because of that simple, yet major, error that I was unable to give this movie a higher rating. Those who see this movie be for warned. What you are looking at is not West Point but the Virginia Military Institute...which, for all you Civil War buffs, was and still is known as "The West Point of the South."
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