Saturday, 15 September 2012

Alternate Best Actor 2003: Stephen Lang in Gods and Generals

Stephen Lang did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in Gods and Generals.

Gods and Generals was a heavily maligned film when it came out, in fact it has a lower percentage on Rotten Tomatoes than the Room, although the film needed more focus it does have its fair share of powerful scenes, and should not have been written off to the point it was.

It should be noted that the powerful scenes of the film tend to involve Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson who is one of the most important generals on the side of the confederacy. Stephen Lang creation of this man is something quite stunning from the very beginning of his performance as the famous General. The voice he uses is absolutely perfect for the role in that it is relatively quiet but holds an absolute command all the same. Lang's voice though is entirely natural, and never seems something forced in the least. He simply achieves and becomes Jackson and the voice helps in this greatly.

Lang from his first scene conveys so well the history of this character from his first moment has he teaches students in his class. Lang shows Jackson to be an always proper man who proceeds as one should or is expected with the utmost respect. Lang takes a completely no nonsense approach with his performance there is no play here in this man, rather it is just the man who is very much to the point in almost all matters. Lang brings to life the true nature of a man who has been a soldier all his life and treated the job with the utmost respect.

What is very important to this performance though by Lang is that although he portrays Jackson as proper but never stiffly or dully. There is a certain warmth in his performance that is just splendid. One aspect of Jackson that Lang brings life wonderfully is his strong religious beliefs. Religious belief is commonly something shown in film actually, but usually in either some very lightweight form, or in terms of doubt, or guilt. Here Lang though shows a very unique depiction of a religious that really brings to life the strength of his faith.

Throughout the film Lang is passionate in his depiction of Jackson's religion and brings it into how it makes him the brave man he is. Jackson fears nothing on the battle field becuase of his firm belief that he will find salvation in the afterlife. Lang is absolutely genuine and moving specifically in one scene where he talks to a friend who has chosen to side with the North rather than the South. The friend remarks that perhaps they will meet again in better times or than hesitates. Jackson finishes his statement by saying In Heaven. Lang's make this moment deeply moving through the completely honest devotion he portrays in Jackson.

One of the most important aspects of Lang's performance though is of course his portrayal of the brilliant General. Lang is flawless in his depiction of the general and there is never a doubt about his abilities or power as a commander of men. In the scenes of preparation before the battles Lang carries himself particularly well through always having a quiet controlled reserve. He always conveys the intelligence of Jackson as tactician in the ease he portrays in Jackson in making the right decisions before and after each battle.

Lang never avoids portraying the fact harsh fact that Jackson is one of the lead Generals of the Confederate side, which is the enemy of the Union. Jackson at times is very harsh in his statements regarding the extent of violence needed to win against the Union. Lang is cold and frankly brutal in these moments, but shows the truth of the career soldier in Jackson. It is not that Jackson is being evil when he says that no quarter should be given, but rather experience of the man speaking. Lang is able to convey most severe ideas as not being hateful, but simply understanding what is needs to be done to win.

The best moments as the general though do probably come in his moments in which he is able to be the Jackson that truly motivated the soldiers. The moment in which he appears to earn his moniker of Stonewall, Lang actually makes absolutely believable. There is only conviction in him as he stands in the middle of fire, there is no doubt in Lang's performance that he is a Stonewall in the field. The only greater moment is his "first brigade" speech to his men. Lang holds the screen as he has the passion to bring men to follow him anywhere even into the hell of battle.

His performance really does come into its very peak after Jackson is shot by friendly fire, and slowly dies from the results of the accident. Lang is absolutely heartbreaking in his depiction of Jackson's slow death. His early moment in particular when there is hope in his eyes as he is reunited with his wife and daughter quietly showing his intense love and dedication for his family. Lang's performance brings to life the tragedy vividly in his physical decay to his final moment. Death scenes are something that many overact in but Lang's never does creating a memorable an honest portrayal of Jackson's final moments into delirium than death.

This is an incredible performance by Stephen Lang it is a shame his performance was never separated from his entirely forgotten film. His performance is a very special performance in his depiction of this important historical figure. What is so magnificent about his performance is that he succeeds in every aspect of this man. He manages to be both a man of legend in his depiction, but all the same very much always manages to bring to life the completely human qualities of the man himself. Lang never seems to be simply playing Stonewall Jackson, but honestly achieves becoming the man here in this fantastic performance.


RatedRStar said...

oh my god it has a score of 8% on Rotten Tomatoes lol, I really dont know whether I should see this, im about 50/50 on whether I should watch it.

Louis Morgan said...

Well Lang being amazing is a reason to see it. I have to admit though it is probably an easier watch for me than many as I am always naturally interested in historical films.

RatedRStar said...

=D I also like historical films too like Glory for example. Its because this film is three hours long lol and I really dont like watching three hour long movies unless they are truly amazing.
Like for example Magnolia/Lawrence Of Arabia/Lord Of The Rings. Then there are those that are absolutely painful and sickening like Exodus/Quo Vadis/The Robe lol =D.

Louis Morgan said...

Well it definitely is not on the level of the first three films you mention. I do honestly feel it is better than those three other films though, becuase there are very strong aspects to it like Lang, who is in the film far more often than Peter Ustinov is in Quo Vadis which is the only saving grace of that film. It is not a great film, but there are great moments in it.

Michael Patison said...

Louis, have you read Michael Shaara's historical novel The Killer Angels and the historical novel by his son, Jeff Shaara, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure? Obviously this film is based on Jeff Shaara's of the same name. The 1993 film Gettysburg is based on The Killer Angels, which is an absolutely fantastic account of Gettysburg, of course. Together, the three novel create an absolutely brilliant portrait of the Civil War.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Really? Lang is usually SUCH an overactor. That 8% on Rotten Tomatoes is discouraging me from seeing it.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: I have not read them, but I really should.

Kook160: Well I have really have not been impressed by Lang in anything else either, but he is good here.

dshultz said...

I love the 1993 Gettysburg film! Jeff Daniels did a masterful job as Lawrence Chamberlain, and the whole cast was really great in my opinion.

mrripley said...

Lang was fab in 1990's last exit to brooklyn.

Louis Morgan said...

dhsultz: I have not seen Gettysburg in quite a while actually. I thought it was quite great when I watched it about twelve years ago.

mrripley: I have not seen it, in fact I really have not seen a whole lot of Lang.