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Sunday, November 30, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF ''THE LAST CONFEDERATE" (2005)

History veracity doesn’t necessarily translate into cinematic virtuosity. The well-intentioned people that fought tooth and nail to produce the 2005 Civil War romance “The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams” (* out of ****) a.k.a. “Strike the Tent,” are direct descendants of the protagonist. Co-director, producer, scenarist, and leading man Julian Adams, who plays his real-life great-great grandfather Robert Adams, deserves recognition for this reverential independent film production that depicts one Southerner’s view of the War Between the States. Indeed, Adams has won several Indie film awards for this effort. Nevertheless, “The Last Confederate” qualifies as a tedious re-enactment with leaden performances by all except Mickey Rooney in a bit part as a bedridden Pennsylvania uncle. However, I must add that “The Last Confederate” is worth watching, even though I found it lacking. I had to opportunity to speak with Julian Adams, the man who wore all the hats on the production, and he shared his experiences in making the film. Although I didn’t like this movie, I have a great deal of admiration for the trials and tribulations that Adams endured to get it produced and distributed. Anybody who reads this critique has the right to disagree with my appraisal of the film. Mr. Adams took issue with my appraisal. Feedback isn’t something that I often receive. Had Adams been a Hollywood mogul, I’d have laughed in this face, but he isn’t a mogul. He knows that his film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t perfect because he didn’t have a budget.

As the descendant of a Mississippi Civil War soldier, I enjoy movies told from the Confederate perspective, but “The Last Confederate” conjures up little suspense and excitement, and the dialogue is hopelessly contrived. Sadly, the actors and actresses could have been reading their lines right off cue cards for all the heart that they put into their performances. Once again, this is an independent production and good talent doesn’t come without some considerable expense. Let’s just say that they performed their parts as the late Spencer Tracy observed. They got their lines out and they didn’t bump into the furniture. As the hero, Adams doesn’t generate a great deal of charisma, but then he did have his hands full with producing this epic, right down to sinking his own money into the handguns and the muskets.

Technically, everything looks accurate enough, but dramatically, this period piece never generates momentum, even during the explosive battle scenes. Adams manages to stage one good gunfight in a shack toward the end. Indeed, most of the epic scale battle sequences are simply re-enactors fighting battles with cameras set up on the periphery of the action. (I know this because I shot video of the battle of Shiloh and there were only certain places that cameras were allowed to be set up.) These scenes with hundreds of dutiful re-enactors parading around and discharging their black powder arms contribute solid production value, but they don’t bolster the drama. Adams renders no judgments against either side, North or South, and the political content is conspicuously absent, but “The Last Confederate” was made to pontificate about values. Adams told me that he was simply relating the facts of history. In any case, on his tight budget, adopting an attitude would have been more than his low budget could have accommodated. The romance between Adams and a Pennsylvania woman, Eveline McCord (co-scenarist Gwendolyn Edwards of “The Broken Hearts Club”), who came to South Carolina to teach school before hostilities, lacks any vibrancy. Again, it’s really a shame, but this stuff really happened.

Directors A. Blaine Miller and Julian Adams relate their yarn in flashback. Our hero, Captain Robert Adams, rushes to the aid of a wounded Confederate soldier and looks up to find a Union soldier taking a bead on him with his revolver. The remaining 90 or so minutes that ensues is devoted to events before and after the war, and there is a hint that perhaps the protagonist didn’t survive this trial by bloodshed. Miller and Adams never make the protagonists seem sympathetic until the middle of the action when Adams and two of his friends engineer an escape from a Federal prison and a grudge-totting Yankee officer chases them. The filmmakers lacked the budget to develop the kind of tension that would make you fear for the lives of the characters. For the record, Adams survived the war, and Eveline and he raised four children and ran a school. What makes Robert Adams is important and essential as a Confederate patriot is never explained. Julian Adams doesn’t provide enough insight into his character to differentiate him from countless other characters. He strikes a gallant figure, but we never get under his skin.

Alas, the fortunes of low budget filmmaking prevented Adams from addressing this problem. The romance between the hero and the heroine is sterile. Some histrionics wouldn't have hurt this otherwise flat-lined drama. Shawn Lewallan’s color photography makes the grade, but there isn’t much subtlety in his lighting. If you suffer through the end credits, the producers reveal that they invoked dramatic license to make their history more palatable. Ostensibly, “The Last Confederate” boasts ambitious intentions, but delivers only a modicum of dramatic impact. Comparisons with the multi-million dollar “Cold Mountain” are inevitable. Initially, when I reviewed this film (which I bought with my own bucks, I described it rather disparagingly as “Dull Mountain.” I still think it is pretty dull, but I will be a man enough critic to applaud Mr. Adams for making this film. He invested his heart and soul in “The Last Confederate.” While I didn’t care for this movie, I appreciate it a lot more after having a conversation with Mr. Adams. Just because I didn’t like it—for purely artistic reasons—doesn’t mean that you will dislike. Ultimately, Julian Adams is a better producer than he is a director.

1 comment:

David Robison said...

I read the original review, you should have kept it, and then did another entry explaining your conversation with the filmmaker and your change in perception.

Dave