"Blessed are the peacemakers. That still in the Bible?"
Copperhead is not your usual Civil War movie. Most movies about this time in US history have storylines that focus on people living on either side of the Mason-Dixon line; with plenty of battlefield action, dramatic tension between families, and some famous actor dressed up in a beard and fake wrinkles to look like Abraham Lincoln. Copperhead is...well, different. In comparison to high-action war movies it's very slow. You might call it a 'home front' Civil War movie. The events are very concentrated in one area, never taking you to the Southern states, so the scope is a little less than, say, Gone With the Wind. (But then, it's not fair to compare anything to GWTW.) It's not so much about the actions of the war as the sentiment of the war. The story gives insight on those who thought the war should never have happened in the first place.
And let me tell you, it. is. so. GOOD.
Directed by Ron Maxwell, Copperhead is sort of a follow-up to the movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. It's very different from the other two, though, so you can't really consider them a series. And for some reason it's not nearly as popular; probably because it was made so much later, it deals with less popular views, and there are no famous actors in it. (Well, there's Peter Fonda, but no one really cares about him.) But I happen to love this movie, and I think it deserves just as much credit as the other two. In fact it's my favorite of the three. It's one of my favorite Civil War movies in general. Now, let me tell you why.
First, the cast of characters is amazing. Some of them I love, some of them I hate, but every one of them is interesting.
- Abner Beech: humble, honest farmer; staunch upholder of the Constitution; opposed to war and unnecessary violence.
- Jeff Beech: Abner's less-conscious son; a boy in love with a girl, basically. ;-P
- Jee Hagadorn: powerful citizen; over-the-top abolitionist; unstable in his mind.
- Esther Hagadorn: Gee's dutiful daughter; schoolteacher; obedient but independent willed.
- Ni Hagadorn: Gee's good-natured son; easygoing, loyal; wants to do right by his fellow man. (NI IS MY FAVORITE CHARACTER.)
- Jimmy: orphan employed by the Beech family; watchful, quiet, earnest.
- Avery: the Beech's neighbor; blacksmith; salty and perceptive.
- Timothy Hurley: employee of the Beech's
- Warner Pitts: a fancy man, town character, boyfriend of one of the Beech's servant girls
If this movie has one main character, it's Abner Beech. Abner is so cool. There are times when Abner's tight morals make me frustrated (like when Ni comes to talk to him and he puts Ni off) but most of the time I just sit there watching him with wide eyes because he's just such an amaaaazing character. Abner wants peace and doesn't believe the North should be fighting the South, which puts him at odds with practically all his neighbors and gives him the label 'copperhead'. Abner gets the mean treatment from Jee Hagadorn, especially, who doesn't like the fact that Abner's son Jeff is sparking his daughter Esther.
Jee Hagadorn, quite frankly, is absolutely nuts. He strongly supports the war and the abolitionist cause, to the point where it consumes him entirely and he doesn't seem to give a hoot about anything else. (The part where he tells Ni what a disappointment he is just because Ni would rather stay home to work the farm than sign up to get himself killed is when I get really mad at him. *angry glare*) Yeah, I really don't like Jee Hagadorn. He annoys me through the roof, especially the way he treats Esther and Ni. Basically he's a first-class creep.
Jeff (whoops, sorry, Tom, as he would rather be called) and Esther are a darling couple. I like Jeff alright, even though he's somewhat of a pushover; I like Esther even more. Still their little love story is one of the more boring parts of the movie, in my opinion. Give me some more drama and tension. *rubs hands and grins maniacally*
But NI. Ni is my favorite. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE NI. (His full name is Beniah, by the way, and for the record I don't know how to spell it.) Ni is sensible and still fun-loving, submissive to authority (um, his lunatic father) but still holds to his own instincts and beliefs. He also has the coolest accent you've ever heard (and I mean even better than Tom Cruise's Irish accent). I love when he comes to speak with Abner, when he goes South to find Jeff, and then when the two of them come back and tell Avery about their experiences. That scene in Avery's shop is my favorite in the whole darn movie. "Mighty glad to see you back, Jeff. You too, Ni."
OH and the part when Ni gives hi little speech at *SPOILER* Jee's funeral *END OF SPOILER* makes me an emotional mess. I do believe the first time I watched it a tear or two slid down my face. Such a powerful scene. "What happened to love thy neighbor?" AHHHHHH I LOVE NI SO MUCH.
Jimmy is the third coming-of-age figure in the midst of all this (along with Jeff and Ni). Jimmy doesn't say much; he basically just does what he's supposed to do and observes everyone else. Jimmy is very perceptive, though, and seems to study and learn from the actions of people around him, especially Abner, whom he looks up to a lot. I like Jimmy. He's kind of boring, admittedly; but I he's a good kid.
The whole setting of the movie is very quaint and old-fashioned; you really get the feel of the time, the way they live, and the values of the people. The little town -- called 'The Corners' -- is in upstate New York, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. There's the cozy little town, the green fields and forests, pastures lined with split rail fences with horses grazing inside. I don't know where they filmed this baby, but I want to go there (and possibly not leave).
What makes Copperhead so incredibly moving is the deep sense of family, loyalty, and neighborly love. You don't see many movies like this nowadays. The story rings true in ever sense -- in the historical detail, the honest emotion, the very real pain experienced by the characters. I think it's wonderful, and I think anyone who appreciates a good Civil War story should watch it.
Copperhead is rated PG-13 for a disturbing sequence, which obviously has to do with spoilers so I'm not going to tell you what it is. There's also some language scattered throughout; pretty much what you'd expect from a historical film, nothing too horrendous. I think the PG-13 is a little unnecessary and it could have gotten away just fine with a PG rating, but I wouldn't recommend watching it with young 'uns, as it is a rather dark premise. But believe me, it is SUCH a good story. :-)
And of course I cannot complete my review without mentioning the MUSIC! Because this is one of my favorite soundtracks ever. It's divinely, unbelievably gorgeous. You never heard anything so beautiful in all your living life. It breathes Civil War. You can listen to the whole soundtrack on Youtube; my favorite tracks are 'The Picnic' and 'Sharp Shooters on the Ridge'.
(Oh, and when I told my sister Sadie I was writing a review of this movie, she wanted me to add something from her, so here it is:)
"Best movie EVER!"
I am inclined to agree. :-)