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Thoughts After a Private Screening of “Copperhead”

Created on 20 December 2012

screening2I have just returned from the Broadway Screening Room, located in the Brill Building in New York City, after having been invited by director Ron Maxwell to a private showing of his film Copperhead, the last time it will be viewed before the picture is locked. I am very limited in what I can say about the film, but I will give you a few tidbits below. I am actually going to write my full review in the next few days and save it for the late May/early June 2013 release, since it is so fresh in my head. Before I get to some details, I just want to say it was great getting a chance to sit and chat with Ron for a few minutes before the film, and also to see actor Brian Mallon again, after we met in the summer of 2011 at the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut world premiere in Virginia. However, in contrast to that film, and Maxwell’s other Civil War work Gettysburg, Copperhead is one that is going to stand alone in terms of films made about the War Between the States. Simply put, it is unlike any other made about the subject ever.

While I cannot give full details on the story, I can tell you that yes, there will be a director’s cut of this film as well, which, according to Ron, will be released about a year after the first DVDs and Blu-Rays come out. An additional 12-15 minutes is expected to be added to the full version. The theatrical edition will clock in at just under two hours.

Bill Kauffman did a masterful job with the script. The dialogue is extremely lively, passionate, humorous at times, and extremely direct. In addition to that comes the pacing of the film, which is obviously much quicker than Ron’s other two Civil War movies. This is a film that will grab your attention and hold it, taking the viewer through many different emotions.

As for the actors, the one word to describe the cast as a whole would be authentic. I cannot think of any other word that would work better. You simply feel as if you were put in a time machine and traveled to 19th century Upstate New York. The acting is genuine and heartfelt, and the beards are real! Kudos to the entire living history staff at Kings Landing Historical Settlement for providing the backdrop and wonderful background extras. Is it too much to ask for some Oscar consideration for cinematographer Kees van Oostrum and composer Laurent Eyquem?

It only took ten minutes for me to realize Campbell was perfect for the role—I really could not see any other actor leaving the same effect as the anti-war farmer Abner Beech. His accent and mannerisms were perfect, and he was eclipsed in stature only by his character’s rival, Jee Hagadorn, played by Angus Macfadyen, of Braveheart fame. Talk about a magnificent performance! Without revealing too much detail, let’s just say that the pro-abolition Hagadorn is passionate about his beliefs, bordering on zealotry. It takes a special kind of actor to pull this mindset off with sincerity.

To touch on the supporting cast, Lucy Boynton reminded me of a young Mira Sorvino, and I believe that with some exposure in this film, American audiences are going to fall in love with her, along with Augustus Prew and Josh Cruddas. Throw in another up-and-comer in Casey Brown and you have a sort of changing-of-the-guard with this film, as it is well balanced between veterans (including the Peter Fonda cameo) and those who are on the way up in the industry.

Lastly, I think it is important to point out that this is not a “war movie”, so to speak. Just like “Lincoln,” this can be labeled a “behind the scenes” of the Civil War movie, because there are no battle scenes. This is a simple story full of complex characters and relationships, which illustrate the effects of war on the homefront, when the horrors of battle and vitriolic politics make their way to a small riverside farming community. In a way, it makes the war even more heartbreaking.

That’s all for now. Have a great Christmas, everyone!