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Love him or hate him, you have to admit that John Milius has returned in
force to make this wonderfully epic movie. He only made two other films
(barely) worthy of note: the underrated Flight Of The Intruder and the
equally under-rated Farewell To The King. Though directed for television,
Rough Riders has all the qualities of a great war epic from the sixties.
What helps Milius is his love of the subject matter. With The Wind And The Lion, Rough Riders feels as though Milius has a deep and abiding love for Theodore Roosevelt. Every frame of this movie gives you the feeling that Milius is working from the heart. His passion and respect for his subject matter illicited the greatest performance of Tom Berenger's career.
If you liked this, do see The Wind And The Lion.
Damn fine film. Some historical points have been stretched a bit, here and
there...Bucky O'Neil was a madman who refused to keep his head down and got
shot right through his cigarette ... Fighting Joe Wheeler was a bantam
rooster of a man (5'3") but with the heart of a lion who did indeed keep
referring to the enemy as "the Yankees"...TR's Rough Rider's attack was up
the nearby Kettle Hill (Cero de Olla) where they racked the Spanish position
across the narrow gully with deadly fire; when the Spanish [and there were
about 1,500 men-- not 500, as some reviewer suggested] broke to fall back to
Santiago, TR boldly took off alone toward the San Juan Heights (Los Altos de
San Juan)having forgotten to give the order to charge...
OK. Enough of History. Yes, Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, was a "looper," as one reviewer puts it, and yes, WR Hearst was a war-baiter-- anything to sell papers and fan the fires of xenophobia... But, hey! This is a damn fine film that captures much of the spirit of that "Bully little war," that launched TR's career into the White House. Tom Berenger is wonderful as the one and only TR who adored by his men (reportedly, on the march into the interior from the coast, TR walked with his men, refusing to ride, through the humid, hot forest and always saw to it that "his boys" were taken care of first. I too noted sadly, the weariness of Brian Keith prior to his suicide, as President McKinley. This film is definitely worth watching again ... and again.
Tom Berenger is a superb actor, and I think his talent is often
He was funny, affecting, and ennobling in "Major League," a comedy about
misbegotten baseball team. He was chilling, on a knife's-edge (a one-man
Hitchcock plot - no way to tell where he was, or what he might do, or
he knew... but no mistaking the motivation and emotion, either...
indescribably human, he was) in "Betrayed." His performance there was
that one hated and feared him from the very start, but ended up praying
he would not be slain. I heard little about his effectiveness in either
case. And yet, there was, of course, his screen-shattering performance
Sgt. Barnes in the brilliant, alligorical, and hard-hitting Oliver Stone
production, "Platoon." He won plaudits for that one, and well-deserved
In this one,"Rough Riders," he is given a juicy, meat-filled slice of adolescent Americana, to play - an incorrigible and inimitable American hero, the irrepressible Theodore Roosevelt. Rather than restraining himself, or attempting to portray TR as - well, as an adult - Berenger seems to let his performance carry itself, unconsciously. He is as over-the-top as TR himself. This is, at all times, under a thin, barely-controlled layer of respectability, very similiar itself to the state in which TR himself seemed to be born. TR's life, much of the time, was a bouncy, swashbuckling melodrama - and Berenger plays all of this to the hilt, and with the necessary controlled-abandon. He might be critisized for over-acting if it wasn't for the plain fact that this is, in fact, the way TR behaved. And anyone who cares to witness Mr. Berenger's other performances (including his most recent roll, as a delightfully dour and cynical sheriff, on USA's "Peacemakers") can see, his sensitivity to the depth of the characters he plays is extraordinary - one can almost pity him, in this case, for choosing to play a man who himself embodied unbelievable melodrama.
Suffice to say, the entire picture is worth watching, just to see bully old Teddy back again, alive and in the flesh, trying to start a war, and then trying to fight and win that war... Berenger brings it all to life, brilliantly. He shouts "bully!" with enthusiasm, he studiously prepares several pairs of spectacles for his expedition to Cuba, we see him trying to improve his piping, asthma-riddled voice, the better to command his soldiers - and, later, we see him fall quite out of his chair at the jest of a comrade, declaiming, "I was overcome with mirth!" Such scenes will overcome the viewer with mirth, as well - but a knowing mirth.
Having said that, this film's best moment is near the beginning, and it involves Illeana Douglas, who plays Teddy's wife, Edith, with a healthy dash of long-suffering tolerance, as if she would leave the set if she could just quit loving the man she'd married. Her defense of the macho (but defenseless) TR in the face of the French is played off terrifically. She comes across as precisely what Edith herself, in fact, was - a woman who had long since resigned herself to the hell-for-leather forays of her headstrong husband... and she defends him with the ruthlessness of a woman who knows that no foreigner will ever understand the boundless Americanism (or worldy childishness) of her husband.
This is not a brilliant film, but it is an entertaining one. The battle scenes are well done, but, aside from what I mentioned above, the real fun in the picture is in the "boot-camp" scenes. A well-cast and icily forbidding Sam Elliott, along with the silent, brooding threat-in-being of David Midthunder, makes these scenes more interesting than the typical military drill-sergeant fare. By the end of the training process, even those watching the movie are longing for the approval of the aloof and mysterious Midthunder - who, in a nicely balanced final scene, explains himself in a way that banishes mystery, conjures comradeship, and evokes sympathy.
One other character commends attention here. Gary Busey plays the ancient Confederate General Joseph Wheeler - a hero of the Civil War (for the South, anyway). Like Berenger, his acting is sure to be termed overdone, excepting the reality that his character was, in fact, a hell-for-leather, horse-riding, Yankee-skewering madman... And there is great pleasure in the watching of Busey bringing this nutty semi-senile General to life. He demands assurances from the President, and we see him repeatedly mistake the Spanish, who we Americans were fighting in this war, for "Yankees." (In the end, the addled, overweight, and over-enthusiastic General settles upon the phrase "them Yankee Spaniards," when referring to the enemy...) It is a fun portrayal of a man whose time has past, but who refuses to acknowledge the fact. Busey's Wheeler is so wound up in the sound of the guns, that he loses all reason, becomes delirious, and yet, beneath it all, hangs inadvertantly to the vestiges of heroism. I think there is little choice but to root for the ill-guided but irresistable General. Having such a melodramatic icon on screen with a viviedly-created TR is almost too much fun to bear.
There is humour and adventure enough for all, in this.
In the end, I recommend this picture for the terrific performances of Tom Berenger and Illeana Douglas, as well as the historical accuracy of much of it. I have left out, in these comments, sympathetic and effective performances by Chris Noth and Holt McCallany, who help make the movie go, and serve to tie the audience into the volunteer soldier idiom. Francesco Quinn brings patriotism, duty, and honour to life - unexpectedly (at least, to Anglo-Americans who know nothing of Latin qualities) in the guise of a love-struck Latin-American. His character, I think, speaks the most towards what modern soldiers might say, that we "all fight for each other." Quinn elevates these platitudes into reality, as the film portrays him carrying out his values, making decisions according to a code he had initially resisted in the interests of staying with his sweetheart. I have also left out Brad Johnson, who's trite "bad-man who learns honour" roll is, nevertheless, well-played. I could write much more... alas, just watch it, and see. A lot of fun. And very, very well done.
I cannot overly praise this great motion picture. When I saw it on
television, I was amazed at its quality and verve, and eagerly awaited it
video. I was not disappointed.
This is a fantastic motion picture on many levels. The scoring was perfect, and the painstaking, accurate attention to detail in period weapons, uniforms, and accoutrement was obvious.
Though the actual facts of the engagements depicted were a bit different than is portrayed in the film (due to time constraints and for the sake of lucidity), the movie has a genuine 'feel' for Teddy Roosevelt, his famous outfit, and the times they lived in.
Sam Elliott, as Captain Bucky O'Neil, was a standout and should have won an award for his performance. He's always a pleasure to watch on screen, but he infuses his part here with genuine toughness, a wonderful dry humour, and great humanity.
Then again, the entire cast was wonderful, particularly Chris Noth, Brad Johnson, Tom Berenger, Dale Dye, and especially scene-stealer Gary Busey. Watch for the actor who played "Indian Bob"; he has one of the funniest (and most human) lines in the film.
This is the only movie I've ever seen that I wanted to be in, in some capacity. It's that good.
Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt! Is this guy an ACTOR or what?!? He's got
Teddy's look & demeanor down pat. He certainly does his research!
Crux of the film - A volunteer rag-time bunch of men become soldiers trained by Buck O'Neil (the ever-outdoorsy M-A-N of the cowboy/war-type flicks, Sam Elliot). Goodrich & Tiffany are just some of the now famous names who went down in history fighting this war on San Juan Hill. Besides the rich & priviledged there were outlaws & everyday men. And who led them up that hill? Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt himself. It's something how he can change his look in practically every film he's in. Just before this one, he was The Substitute. He looked older, grayish hair, wrinkles in his face. As Teddy, his skin is so smooth, his hair not gray at all & has a much younger stance. I know make-up & hair dye can do wonders (& Berenger's wife was the person on the set to do it here) but what a transformation!
Gary Busey is not one of my favorite actors but he's got the energy & craziness for his role as Joe Wheeler here, in command & in pursuit! Go buy this film & enjoy the thrill of acting!
ROUGH RIDERS, John Milius' tribute to the legendary Spanish-American War
volunteer unit headed by future President Theodore Roosevelt, can be nearly
considered a 'prequel' to his classic, THE WIND AND THE LION. Certainly no
director has ever presented a richer portrait of one of the most complex,
fascinating men of the twentieth century than Milius has, in these two
When 'War Fever' against the Spanish grips the nation, fueled by the inflammatory headlines of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (flamboyantly played by George Hamilton), young Teddy Roosevelt (Tom Berrenger, who is superb), exhibiting the headstrong energy he was famous for, decides he has to be a part of it. Getting veteran Apache fighter Col. Leonard Wood (real-life film military adviser Dale Dye) to command his unit, Roosevelt puts out a call for volunteers, and his name, already famous nation-wide, draws an extraordinary mix of personalities, from bank robbers (Brad Johnson, in one of his best performances), to a frontier marshal (Sam Elliott, who would play a similar character in WE WERE SOLDIERS), to Indians (Bob Primeaux and David Midthunder, both excellent), to a group of Ivy Leaguers (led by LAW AND ORDER star Chris Noth).
At a White House meeting, President William McKinley (a frail-looking Brian Keith, who had portrayed 'T.R.' in THE WIND AND THE LION) and his Secretary of State, John Hay (R. Lee Ermey), appoint southern Congressman 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler to lead the American forces, with the rank of General (primarily to appease a South still bitter over the Civil War). An ex-Confederate officer (portrayed by Gary Busey, who nearly steals the film), Wheeler takes a liking to Wood and Roosevelt, and to 'Black Jack' Pershing's 'Buffalo Soldiers' (the famous Black regiment), over the 'regular Yankees', and does his best to give them preference, while offering his 'unreconstructed' advice.
With the eyes of the world on them, the 'Rough Riders' train (Elliott says, bluntly, "I'll teach them to become killers"), bond (the cowboys are stunned when Ivy Leaguer Noth easily breaks a stallion, then are told that he is a champion polo player), and show complete devotion to the eccentric but beloved Roosevelt ("He's one of us," one cowboy says, proudly). Despite a series of snafus (the horses get left behind, turning the unit into a 'dismounted cavalry'), the 'Rough Riders' make it to Cuba, and the thick of battle.
With legendary personalities Hearst, Fredric Remington (Nick Chinlund), Stephen Crane (Adam Storke), and Edward Marshall (William Katt) chronicling their actions, Roosevelt and his unit would be bloodied but unbowed, achieving immortality, with the 'Buffalo Soldiers' beside them, at the Battle of San Juan Hill...
Told as a flashback narrated by Brad Johnson, ROUGH RIDERS emerges as a remarkable history of a group of remarkable men. At the film's center is, of course, Berrenger's remarkable portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt, who, experiencing war first-hand, matures dramatically, developing the courage and strength of character that would soon make him a truly great President.
John Milius proves, again, that he is one of America's most underrated directors. ROUGH RIDERS is superb!
I enjoyed this movie tremendously, but then again I'm a big Theodore
Roosevelt fan. The movie does nothing to damage his reputation and is
minimal in its application of modern sensibilities. There's lots of action,
which closely mimics the historical accounts I've read. Believe it or not,
by all reports TR was much as he is portrayed. Good performances abound with
Tom Berringer topping the list.
I'll skip trying to tell you what was on these peoples mind when they went to war, however, TR had been de facto Secretary of the Navy and a politician for quite a while so I vote for less naivete than hinted at by another commentator. That said, true believers are reported to have been a far more common breed at the time.
A good rent, but I wish it were available on DVD. Talk to Ted Turner about that.
The depiction of America in 1898, the slowly healing wounds from the Civil War (in the South), the coming together of men of different backgrounds, as well as the apparently realistic battle scenes combine to make this one of the best Turner films in recent years. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Teddy Roosevelt or Bucky O'Neil or in the Spanish-American War and the economic (and idealistic) American view of Cuba at the time. The characters emerge as real people and the viewer forgets for a moment that it's a film.
This film chronicles the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry ("Rough Riders") from their inception in the mind of Teddy Roosevelt through the capture of the San Juan Heights, the moment at which Roosevelt said "We will always live in its shadow." Although it takes some liberties with the facts, they're simply to strengthen the story as constrained by the medium: better than two months and a thousand men are pushed into three+ hours and some fifteen characters, enough to catch the flavor of the time. And what a time: when rich young men from Park Avenue sincerely believed it was their duty to take part in their country's wars, and a politician who started one went to fight in it, when artists calmly painted oils of battle, and correspondents walked toward the sound of the guns... Fiercely accurate in the feel of the battle, especially the waiting under fire, and in the making of men into killers, "Rough Riders" is beautifully filmed and scored. But mostly, it's well acted. Berengar *is* Theodore Roosevelt, and Sam Elliott gives another good performance, as does William Katt as Edward Marshall (with a lot of Richard Harding Davis's actions). Gary Busey's Fighting Joe Wheeler is a scene-stealer, much like "the old gamecock" undoubtedly was, and the little roles are well handled as well, especially Nick Chinlund's Frederic Remington. But the real focus of the movie is on Brad Johnson's Henry Nash, the Arizona outlaw, and Chris Noth's Craig Wadsworth, the Park Avenue polo player... Noth in particular gives a understatedly lovely, nuanced performance as the rich young man coming face to face with Life -- the very thing his family had tried so hard to keep him from ever having to experience. His transformation mirrors the transformation this particular war created in our country; as Roosevelt says in the film, "It will never be the same again." I heartily recommend this movie.
Tom Berenger was a great Teddy Roosevelt. It just shows his talents as an actor. The background research on the history was done and the locations were chosen wisely. Unfortunately this movie has not been put on DVD and was not receive wide publicity, so it was overlooked. In addition most of our youth today don't even remember the history beyond last week. I would have liked to see more of the relationship that Teddy had with his men. It's also a fact that many of his Rough Riders did not get to go to Cuba for lack of space on the ships. They wept at the thought of being left behind. At the mustering out - Teddy was presented gifts by his men and he said I'll never forget you. I think these items were overlooked in the movie.
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