Ron Maxwell has produced three civil war movies beginning with Gettysburg (1993…yes, 20 years ago…man I feel old), Gods and Generals (2003) and his newest movie Copperhead (2013). Maxwell created a great movie in Gettysburg. He focused on three aspects of the battle: the opening Union cavalry delaying tactics of John Buford, the Defense of Little Round Top by Chamberlain on the second day, and Picket’s Charge on the third day of battle. The reason Gettysburg works as a film is that despite only focusing on these three events it still tells enough of the story of the battle for the general audience to understand the significance of the battle.
In Gods and Generals, Maxwell tries to tell too much of a story and the movies suffers for it. I have always said that Gods and Generals could have been a great movie about the major battles leading up to Gettysburg or a great bio of Stonewall Jackson. However, Maxwell tried to do both and both suffered. Seriously who leaves out the Battle of Antietam? Maxwell seems to have had many great story ideas but tried to do too much and the movies suffered for it.
In Copperhead, Maxwell again seems to lose focus…not because he tried to do too much but just did not stay focused on the task at hand. The movie treats an aspect of the Civil War that has not been touched on much in film…if ever. Many of the scenes in the movies seem unfinished or not fully developed. Some of the historically driven dialog seems forced and over-scripted…uneasy and amateur.
Just as Gods and Generals could have been a great movie about one of its subjects, Copperhead could have been a great movie about its singular subject. I would recommend my readers to watch the movie for themselves and decide for themselves if it deals with the subject matter in a cohesive and flowing manner. I just think it missed the mark.
The movie does have great actors, scenery and period settings so if those make a film for you this one is for you. Many of my neo-confederates will say that I am criticizing this movie for its topic, but that is far from the truth. The topic of the war and its conduct by the North is a worth while story and should be discussed. However, I believe that Copperhead falls short of fleshing this story out.