STANDING ON GUARD

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Lee & Grant

Release Year:   2011
Studio:   A&E Home Video
Format:   Colour; NTSC
Rating:   PG
# of Discs:   1
Running Time:   94 m + bonus
DVD Release Date:   September 20, 2011

Screenwriters:   Winston Groom
Director:   John Ealer
Actors:   Narrated by Jonathan Frakes
DVD Features:   Additional Footage
E: Top Picks Rating:   6.5/10

A&E Write-up: 

Produced with the cooperation of leading Civil War historian Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, LEE & GRANT is a personal look at two iconic leaders of the Civil War. Surprising details reveal the bold choices and almost godlike power Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee summoned on decisive battlefields like Vicksburg and Gettysburg that, within days of each other, turned the tide of the war. Originally aired in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this special features a unique perspective, exploring how these men changed the course of American history.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 

I’ve always entertained a certain fascination with the American Civil War. I’m not alone in that regard, which explains the ongoing output of documentaries, books and memorabilia associated with that terrible conflict.

Let’s face it. There have been great achievements (Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”) and dozens of imitators. Finding a new angle to present this compelling subject matter is a challenge that is seldom successfully met.

As Civil War documentaries go, Lee & Grant isn’t bad, but is so caught up in style that it overshadows the content. This is really too bad, because a detailed examination of the two most well-known generals from that war is a compelling topic.

Perhaps the most-often speculated theory about the American Civil War is the idea “what if Robert E. Lee had chosen to remain loyal to the Union?” Would the war have been shortened? Would it have taken as great a toll as it did?

Lee was arguably the greatest American general of the period. It’s a pretty safe bet to say his decision to put State over Country resulted in more death and destruction than many people are comfortable to admit.

OK, so how could this subject not fail to measure up as a great documentary?

Because Ken Burns’ comprehensive exploration of the subject matter has made it virtually impossible for any subsequent film about the Civil War to be as highly regarded, director/producers are tempted, I think, to try to find a totally different approach to presenting this subject matter.

Fair enough, but the result, in LEE & GRANT, is overkill; style over substance.

For example, when filming an historian, I don’t want to see a gigantic close-up of an oak tree in the foreground taking up two-thirds of the screen, with the dwarfed speaker sitting in the distant background. Such visual tricks are meaningless and distracting.

Similarly, when explaining Grant’s aversion to blood, the filmmakers tell how, as a boy, Grant was exposed to the slaughter of animals as part of the family business. This is accompanied by repeated shots of a little boy’s bare foot stepping in a pool of blood as he runs along. Surely this is (excuse the pun) overkill?

There is a wealth of information about Generals Lee and Grant that will be of value and interest to students and historians alike, but I, for one, don’t like my facts overshadowed by attention-grabbing camera work and direction. Subject matter this good simply doesn’t need it.

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