“Copperhead” is an Involving, Intimate Civil War Drama — Catch it While You Can


Smaller movies come and go at breakneck speed — I was looking to find where I could catch “The Bling Ring” later this week, and noticed it is already leaving local theaters after tomorrow — so if you have any interest in history, the Civil War, or simply adult drama, make sure to catch “Copperhead” this week at the Eastern Hills Mall. It is possible director Ron Maxwell’s film will still be playing after this Friday, but with such a crowded marketplace, I’d bet against it.

I saw the film on Saturday night, and found it an involving, handsome, well-acted film, one very different in tone and style from Maxwell’s “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.” It is a more intimate story (based on an acclaimed novella by Harold Frederic), to be sure, and one focused on a lesser known element of the Civil War: those dissenters who were against the conflict at all cost.

Billy Campbell — the Rocketeer! — stars as Abner Beech, a farmer vocally opposed to the war, to Lincoln, and to the attitudes of most of his upstate New York neighbors. At the top of this list is the fiery Jee Hagadorn, played by a spirited Angus Macfadyen. Beech’s son Jeff and Hagadorn’s father are in love — a development that thrills neither family — and soon, a defiant Jeff enlists in the Union army.

The story is at times predictable, and the pacing takes some getting used to — there is not a battle scene in this Civil War picture — but “Copperhead” never fails to entertain, and ranks as fine piece of historical cinema. (I’d go three stars, or a solid B/B+, with this one.)

One other important note re: “Copperhead”: The film is written by Batavia native Bill Kauffman, who appeared at Saturday’s screening and led a wide-ranging Q-and-A after the movie ended. His background is certainly unique; see his bio on the film’s website.

Incidentally, I wrote a piece for The Film Stage website last week on some lesser-known Civil War films to see before or after “Copperhead.” “Lesser known” is a bit misleading — Buster Keaton’s “The General” has long been proclaimed as one of the finest films ever made — but my thought was that many viewers may not have actually watched the film, and are simply aware of its reputation.

I’ll likely repost the piece here at some point, but in the meantime, click the above link and check it out. Perhaps you’ll find a solid streaming or rental idea.

Photo courtesy of copperheadthemovie.com..

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