Men Go to Battle
The Civil War in America is about as relevant as the War of the Roses in England. It is remembered in film and television, yes, but in a way to a) melodramatize history and/or b) serve as conduit for ambitious actors and actresses. Spielberg’s epic catastrophe Lincoln is a good example. Zachary Treitz’s Men Go to Battle is not.
The movie follows Kentucky brothers Francis and Henry. It is 1861 and the Civil War is on the horizon. Unconcerned with the world outside of their parochial home, Francis and Henry let the wind guide their quiet lives. That is until Henry kisses the daughter of an aristocrat, fears retribution, and disappears. Francis is greatly concerned, but is soon consoled after a letter arrives explaining Henry has enlisted in the Union army. However, the experiences Henry has as an officer and Francis’ hard time alone at home will irrevocably change their brotherly relationship.
The cast of Men Go to Battle appear as if they (and their costumes) have been exhumed from the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. This is matched with an appealing and accurate Kentucky landscape – a necessity for period pieces. Strangely, the screenplay does not follow suit. The motivations and life events of Francis and Henry are akin to scenarios in Will Ferrell movies. This is not meant in the pejorative – on the contrary, Francis and Henry are hilarious and, at times, deeply human. Unfortunately this tends to work much better in the first third of the film, rather than the latter.
Men Go to Battle is pleasing, intriguing, and disappointing all in one. Contemporary period pieces tend to shift from stereotypical majestic portraits to a more “real” (read: vulgar) depiction of history, and this is no exception. The film is a true-to-life odyssey filled with tobacco spitting, accepted infidelity, and scenes shot almost entirely in the dark. Moreover, this Civil War adventure is presented in the guise of a “dark comedy-drama”. This kind of filmmaking requires a meticulous approach to succeed, and this is where the movie runs into trouble. While it is a noble effort to present history, Men Go to Battle fails to strike the perfect balance between entertainment and verisimilitude.
Men Go to Battle is released in selected theaters on April 17th 2015.