Copperhead Movie Review

Column by Bradley Keyes

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Towns and families ripped apart by war, neighbors turned against neighbors, fathers against sons and daughters, all without a shot fired or an “enemy” in sight.

Copperhead, The Movie, presents the conflicts and tragedies of war far from the battlefields.

Director Ron Maxwell, whose previous works include Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, brings the American Civil War home to upstate New York. Based on the 19th Century novel by Harold Frederic, Copperhead delves into the conflict between the men and the philosophies of Northerners both for and against the war.

The film features Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), a strong, quiet man of conviction who steadfastly holds to his view that the Constitution and the rights declared within are the more important war. Abner seeks, and speaks out, to protect his family and those around him from the ravages of war.

Pitted against Abner is Jee Hagadorn (Angus Macfadyen), a loud and righteous man whose convictions are as deeply held as Abner's. Jee, Bible in hand, has the fire of a evangelical preacher and a vision of the liberation of the slaves that obscures all else.

Thrown in the middle of the Beech/Hagadorn feud are Jeff Beech (Casey Brown) and Esther Hagadorn (Lucy Boynton), a young couple in love, whose beliefs are as strong as their fathers', yet not always the same. The presence of war weighs on families and the people of the town, with few, if any, left untouched.

Screenwriter Bill Kaufman has done a masterful job with the dialogue. Often what is not said is as important as what is, especially in the case of Abner, a man who speaks softly and holds his emotions within. There are no wasted words in Copperhead, but there are many powerful lines and ideas.

The film is filled with insightful quotes and moving comments, such as:

"War is a fever. It makes you do things you wouldn't do if you weren't sick."

"There's the war you read about in the newspapers and there's the war as it really is."

. . . which touch on questions too infrequently asked about liberty, war, and peace.

The final, provoking speech by Ni Hagadorn (Augustus Prew), Jee's son, is the high point and alone makes the move worth watching.

Copperhead is visually stunning. The scenery, sets, and costumes present a peaceful, idyllic environment that stands in stark contrast to almost all other war movies. Laurent Eyquem's soundtrack, like the dialogue, imbues both a sense of calm and tension, matching the mood of the movie beautifully.

Copperhead is ultimately about the right to speak, the right to live and to protect one's family. Strength of character and the courage of many individuals standing up for, proclaiming, and acting on their principles create a tale worthy of being told, and listened to.

The final scene, one of reconciliation and forgiveness, touches on themes often lost after the battles are over.

Copperhead is a beautifully made, thoughtful movie that is well worth watching for the entire family.


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