As a fan of Ron Maxwell’s previous Civil War films, the 1993 film, Gettysburg, and the 2003 film, Gods and Generals, I couldn’t help but contain my excitement to hear he was returning for a third film set in that time in American history. Admittedly, I was sad to find out it wasn’t the final chapter in his Civil War trilogy, but still, Maxwell had done two great films set in this time period, so I kept my hopes up. Unfortunately, Copperhead, his new film based on the novel of the same name by Harold Frederic, and starring Billy Campbell and Angus Macdayen, isn’t the film I was hoping it would be. Instead of being a film that deals with the war itself, we’re put through a film that is frustratingly set on the outside, looking in, with a Romeo and Juliet style love story stuck in the middle. What follows is a well acted, but tedious, and frankly unexciting, look into a side of history that isn’t exactly film worthy.
The film is set in 1862, in a rural community upstate New York. Abner Beech (Campbell), a farmer is a Northern pacifist Democrat who refuses to take a side on the ongoing Civil War, which the community starts to turn on him for, calling he and anyone who feels that way, “Copperheads”. His son, Jeff, enlists in the Union Army. But Jeff has has also fallen in loved with Esther, the daughter of militant abolitionist Jee Hagadorn (Macdayen), much to his ire. The relationship begins to cause tension between the two families, as well as ongoing Civil War and the tension it causes between the town folk.
The strongest aspect of Copperhead is in its two leads, Billy Campbell and Angus Macdayen, who are both excellent as Abner Beech and Jee Hagadorn, respectively. Campbell is a great character actor, and one that Maxwell has worked with before, so he gets great performance out of him. But it’s really Macdayen who is the film’s standout. He gives a very intense, wonderful performance as Jee, and any time he was on the screen, I couldn’t look away. The various supporting actors are fine to good as well, but none of them outshine Campbell and Macdayen. It’s just too bad the film itself isn’t better, because for as good as the performances are, the movie is simply bland. It feels like a made for TV film, and while it’s an interesting history lesson anecdote, that’s all it ever is. It never gets better than that, sadly. Some scenes drag on forever, and it all feels like a documentary instead of a film.
Thankfully, on the technical side, the blu-ray is great. The picture is absolutely gorgeous, with great detail and clarity. Maxwell can at least shoot well, which makes his films always wonderful to look at. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio is good as well, but with a film that has very little action or anything going on, and a lot of talking, it really doesn’t make your sound system pop. But it really sounds nice, which is really what matters. But unfortunately, on the other side, there are no special features, which makes the blu-ray feel incomplete. A making of docomuntary or commentary would have gone a long way, but they are nowhere to be found here.
Copperhead is a film I really wanted to love, but unfortunately, I found it more frustrating than well done. Outside of its two lead performances, the film doesn’t do much more than be a history lesson on a small anecdote from the past. Campbell and Macdayen are excellent in the film, but not enough happens to make the film come alive. On the technical side, the blu-ray looks great, but it’s too bad there are no special features to be found on the disc. Overall, the film is worth a watch for Civil War buffs, but really no one else. You can own it now on blu-ray, and order from the WB Shop here: http://bit.ly/OLKVA6