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All Critics (19)
| Top Critics (10)
| Fresh (4)
| Rotten (15)
I wish "Copperhead" were better, because it tells a story we haven't seen before, and creates a world that films have rarely shown us.
So much taste and intelligence went into these finely wrought costumes, props and sets in order to tell a story of such tedium.
Though the tale, based on a novel by Harold Frederic, remains relevant to our time, the film is too self-conscious and tedious for the message it delivers.
If every war has more than one side, this story of one man who dares to stand against the tide of history has a contemporary relevance that remains uncontested.
Sluggish drama ... defines this morality lesson about the unimpeachable virtue of loving thy neighbor.
Less like a peering examination of the turbulent political environment than a reenactment of a Ken Burns documentary-or a museum tour.
Maxwell and Kauffman merit praise for acknowledging historical complexity, but the film's moral and aesthetic limitations keep Copperhead from entering this realm.
There's a good story to be told somewhere in here, but they just couldn't get at it, choosing to stretch out and suffocate what good material they had, resulting in a bland and tedious tale that would fail to engage even the most avid history buff.
As both politics and entertainment, it's lacking.
For this audience, Ron Maxwell's film will prove entertaining and though-provoking, at the very least. For the rest, it is unlikely to provide much dramatic sustenance.
A work every bit as turgid and baldly sentimental as the centerpiece lecture at a convention of historical reenactors.
Its budgetary limitations show. Many scenes could have used additional takes to polish the performances, and the often-poor sound recording is a shortcoming, particularly with stylized period dialogue. The leads show surprisingly little range.
Outstanding independent Canadian/American film directed by Ron Maxwell for one reason - finally telling the truth about a part of the U.S. history we had it hidden for so long. It stars Billy Campbell who replaced Jason Patric partway through filming. The story was set in upstate New York but the movie was shot at Kings Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick, Canada. It was based on a 19th-century novel, The Copperhead, by Harold Frederic. The title refers to Northern opponents of the American Civil War, known as Copperheads. I teach American History in China, and I am glad that finally I could have a real example to illustrate a political word 'copperhead'!
The beginning of the movie is introducing us a rural community upstate New York in 1862, and follows Abner Beech, a farmer who is a Northern pacifist Democrat. While his neighbours take up the Union cause in the ongoing American Civil War, Beech believes in neither side, and gradually become more and more harassed for being such a pacifist, derisively called "Copperheads". At that time in American history, these people were considered sneaky characters and traitors, just because they thought differently! Abner's son, Thomas Jefferson Beech, called Jeff by his family though he wants to be called Tom, enlists in the Union Army. Beech also arouses the ire of militant abolitionist Jee Hagadorn, whose daughter Esther (Lucy Boynton) loves Jeff...
The significance of finally coming up with the historical truth about Abraham Lincoln and 'coperheads' is huge, and only positive vibes for the movie for that. Throughout the 118 minutes of the movie, I witnessed very good performances, but the tempo of the movie lacked dynamics and at moments was over indulging in numerous long takes which were probably reminding the audience that they're watching an important, yet little-known, historical drama with an earnest look at an underexplored subject.
If you love history and good acting, check it out!
I don't know if I'm more surprised by the fact that Peter Fonda is still alive, or by the fact that Ron Maxwell is not only still alive, but honestly believes that he can make a successful Civil War film at this point. You have to at least give the guy credit for making this film two hours, rather than, you know the length of the American Civil War, but I reckon this film goes to show you that it's necessarily not the length of Maxwell's Civil War films that fail to draw a crowd, or at least it hasn't been ever since the reception on "Gods and Generals". Forget you guys, I thought it was good, though the posters were perhaps more exciting than the film itself, much like the poster for this film, because when I see Billy Campbell walking away from a giant American flag, trailed by a small inferno, I get kind of pumped up, and apparently I'm the only one. Yeah, no one's going to see this film except me and other old men, most of whom are likely to actually be old (I'm wise beyond my years... y'all), so if you ask me, Maxwell should have held back the ambition and saved up his money to go ahead and round out his actual Civil War epic trilogy with "The Last Full Measure". Now he's going to have to wait another ten years to make up the money for that, and when it gets to that point, hopefully he'll find some blasted financial success, because as overlong as blockbusters are nowadays, by the time 2023 comes along, a four-and-a-half-hour-long epic will just be another Midnight Movie Madness session for the teenagers. Don't worry, film critics who judge me so, I'm sure that my patience with Michael Bay's "Transformers" saga will finally expire by the time an installment doesn't just feel fours hours long, and if "The Last Full Measure" is about as compelling as this film, maybe I'll also lose patience with Maxwell's Civil War anthology. No, this film leans about as close to rewarding as it does to underwhelming, but "Gods and Generals" pulled off its sprawling length better than they say, whereas this film has enough trouble keeping you going for just two hours, doing an ultimately adequate job, but not without taking some blows.
"Gettysburg" stood to be more excessive with its runtime of four hours and a quarter, or in the case of the director's cut, four-and-a-half hours, and as for "Gods and Generals", well, it wasn't the tightest three-and-a-half-hour sit, let alone the four hours and three quarters-long sit that was its director's cut, but I still found it compelling, so the last thing you're expecting to see in this two-hour-long Civil War drama by Ronald F. Maxwell is excessive material, yet lo and behold, it's still hear, drawing excessive subplots and layers that the narrative struggles to juggle without catching a hint of repetition, if not aimlessness. The film drags its feet all too often, and it's typically under the weight of talkativeness, which blands things up enough without the occasional atmospheric cold spell, of which there aren't nearly as many as I feared there would be in this generally genuinely entertaining film, but enough for you to find more moments than you should in which pacing is stiffened, giving you time to see how much this film drags along, and tells an all too familiar tale along the way. If this really isn't supposed to be an official installment in Ron Maxwell's Civil War trilogy, then the director's tastes in how he handles period pieces is fairly formulaic, and not entirely within its own context, because even when you disregard how all of the dry talkativeness and juggling of a big ol' haul of subplots and whatnot make this more-or-less "Gods and Generals: The Abridged Cut", this is a fairly familiar type of period drama that follows a path that is not simply predictable, but kind of thin. What could very well have nudged "Gods and Generals" past underwhelmingness and certainly played a big part in carrying "Gettysburg" a relatively long way was the value of the story concepts that Maxwell tacked in his last efforts of this type, and sure, this film's story concept is intriguing enough for a rewarding final product to be a very real possibility, but on the whole, there's only so much meat to this particular Ron Maxwell Civil War drama, being mostly anchored by aimless dialogue and a perhaps overly layered focal structure. Potential stands firm, but does so on shaky ground, following subject matter that is limited in kick and could have been kicked safely out of underwhelmingness, but ultimately retains its position just short of rewarding, not just because of the aforementioned flawed telling of an improvable story, but because of the very thing that brings the final product to the brink of rewarding: Ron Maxwell's directorial heart, which is endearing and often effective, but too ambitious, often to the point of thinning out subtlety, and consistently to the point of reflecting the areas in which this film falls short of being what Maxwell wants it to be. The film is perhaps too passionate to be fully realized, and I respect that, especially when the passion proves to be effective, but on the whole, ambition reflects shortcomings, of which there are enough for the final product to fall just short of a rewarding status that it could have easily achieved. That being said, a rewarding status would not be so clear in your view if the film didn't match its considerable shortcomings with considerable strengths, being relatively underwhelming, but reasonably engaging as a period drama, or at least reasonably convincing.
A cheaper Ron Maxwell Civil War opus, and one that boasts a considerably smaller scope than "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals", this film doesn't have a whole lot of opportunities to wow with its production value, but production designer Bill Fleming and costume designer Kate Rose nevertheless do a pretty decent job of rebuilding Civil War-era New York with subtly effective immersion value, as well as a certain distinctive niftiness, complimented by cinematography by Kees Van Oostrum that isn't too consistently striking, but generally handsome, with moments in inspired lighting play that are near-stunning. Cinematography is a reasonably attractive artistry element, and it's not the only one, because even though Laurent Eyquem's score work is formulaic, it's also quite soulful, with a beautifully tasteful tone that is both enjoyable by its own musical right and complimentary to tone, or at least entertainment value. Style livens things up a bit throughout the film, playing an instrumental part in keeping the film from falling too low in engagement value, and often playing a pretty hefty role in breathing life into compellingness, which, quite frankly, deserves as much compliment as it can get. Sure, this film's story concept is thin in weight and both formulaic and bloated in structure, but it's far from all that limited in intrigue, having humanly dramatic and thematic depth that is juicy on paper and, well, could be faultier in execution, for although Bill Kauffman's script is flawed, it offers a reasonable bit of wit to its dialogue to color things up almost as much as well-rounded characterization, which is itself brought to life by a colorful ensemble cast, most all of whose members keep consistent with charisma, broken up by the occasional effective dramatic beat, and bonded through convincing, almost rich chemistry. Expository depth is sparse, and the film has only so much time to flesh out a lot of stories and a lot of characters, yet where the final product could have fallen into underdevelopment, it pretty impressively offers enough color to characterization and acting to bring much of the heart of this ensemble character drama to life, and that's enough for the final product to come to the brink of rewarding, a state that it is held back from by the very man who does about as much as anything or anyone in securing the level of decency that this film ultimately stands on. Ronald F. Maxwell has always been a flawed director, and after yet another ten-year-long break, he still gets too ambitious in his storytelling for his worthy vision's own good, to the point of incorporating subtlety issues, or at least emphasis on other missteps in a journey to craft a rewarding drama, and with this project, his trademark hiccups finally drive the final product short of rewarding, but not so short that the final product doesn't still come close to escaping underwhelmingness on the wings of a reasonably lively atmosphere that keeps entertainment value surprisingly adequate, and often really does bond with Maxwell's somewhat questionable heart in order to craft genuine compellingnesss, maybe even emotional resonance. Were Maxwell more consistent in doing justice to the meatier parts of this story concept, rather than emphasizing shortcomings, this film would have been quite decidedly rewarding, at least as much as "Gods and Generals" was to me, yet as things stand, there's enough inspiration behind this promising project to make a reasonably compelling final product, in spite of the shortcomings that undercut true potential.
In the end, an almost aimless excess in plot layering, as well as a formulaic telling of a dramatically limited story concept whose shortcomings go emphasized by a touch too much ambition within Ronald F. Maxwell's direction just narrowly drive the final product into underwhelmingness, but through lovely art direction, cinematography and score work, and a reasonably intriguing story concept that goes brought to life by well-rounded and well-portrayed characters, and effective moments in inspired direction, "Copperhead" is left standing as an adequately entertaining and compelling, if flawed Civil War drama.
2.75/5 - Decent
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