Did everyone enjoy the fireworks on the Fourth of July? With the spirit of patriotism still in our blood, let’s look at some of our favorite movies about American history in today’s Roundtable.
M. Enois Duarte
Although not historically accurate (what movie ever is?), Michael Mann’s ‘The Last of the Mohicans‘ is one of my most beloved films about early American history. Set during the French and Indian War, the story is somewhat simple and even a bit on the mawkish side. But in the hands of Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti, this adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel is transformed into an epic sweeping romance that celebrates the natural beauty of this country and the wonder of its wilderness. I love that filmmakers show the story as the seeds of independence from British rule. It was in the following decade after the end of this war that the people of the colonies united for the first time as Americans and fought for their sovereignty. With inspiring music by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, and the excellent editing of Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt, Mann’s ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ is one of my favorite films to watch during Fourth of July week.
The genre-crossing ‘Patton‘ is a once-and-future classic that deftly presents its title character as an extraordinary anachronistic military legend. ‘Patton’ is one of a handful of movies that I can catch a few seconds of on TV, and find myself completely captivated. By sticking to Patton’s involvement with the Second World War, the bio-pic remains as enthralling as any war film, while at the same time presenting a classroom-appropriate narrative. Finally, the way the film manages to objectively present all the good and the bad notions from these episodes of Patton’s life define it as a great American history film.
‘All the President’s Men‘ is my favorite American history movie. It’s also my favorite movie about journalists and government conspiracies. The fact that the film is still as exciting today, more than 36 years after its release, and even after we finally learned the true identity of Deep Throat, says much about the power of star presence, excellent writing, strong direction and a good story. This is a great movie.
I have to go with ‘Glory‘ here. Edward Zwick’s masterful Civil War epic is a celebration of the American spirit, but it achieves that goal by being a very realistic and even brutal depiction of a terrible time in America’s past. Much of the film’s success can be laid at the feet of its outstanding ensemble cast. Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick all have extensive cinematic careers, but ‘Glory’ is still a highlight for each. Actually, I’m partial to just about anything Civil War-related. (‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ comes in a close second.)
As the resident Canadian here, I was planning to bend the rules this time around just a little by going with a historical Canadian film, since Canada Day was on July 1st. Unfortunately, my plan was foiled when I came to the realization that we really don’t have any movies that fit that profile – or at least any good ones, anyway. That’s pretty sad, so somebody needs to make one.
Ang Lee’s Civil War drama ‘Ride with the Devil‘ was not particularly popular at its time of release (1999) and has been largely forgotten since. I went into this movie with very low expectations (all of the publicity highlighted the presence of annoying folk singer Jewel in a small supporting role), but came out loving it. The film takes the rare approach of viewing the Civil War from the Southern perspective, as a pair of young kids who’ve barely entered manhood (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich, both far better here than usual) join a band of Bushwhackers to fight against the so-called Northern Aggression. As the war drags on, their disillusionment with their cause grows, and it becomes clear that they are less professional soldiers than a loose band of thieves and murderers. The most interesting character in the piece is a former slave (Jeffrey Wright) who fights for the South for complex reasons that aren’t initially clear. The story is a fascinating character drama that provides a unique look at race relations in the era.
Give us your picks for best movies about American history in the Comments.