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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Movie Review: Field of lost shoes.

Field of Lost Shoes tell the story of the Battalion of VMI Cadets at the battle of New Market in 1864. There are two story lines.

Fist we have the story of the Cadets, young men doing what young men do at a military academy. The Drill and study, pull pranks, haze (yes hazing is part of the culture and is shown) and try to meet girls.  Pretty standard teen age stuff really except this is Virginia in the Civil War and these boys could find them selves used to defend the Shenandoah Valley if, no when the Yankees come.  They also enter in to a deal with the slave who bakes bread for VMI swapping game meat for bread.  This becomes the main vehicle for addressing slavery in the film the elephant in the room all films with Confederate protagonists must deal with.  One of the boys is actually portrayed as anti-slavery, not like a Boston Abolitionist but he thinks the institution evil, though he will only say so to his closest friends.  The other boys seem indifferent to slavery, there are no impassioned defenses of it, the Peculiar institution is simply accepted.  I found this far better than how some films address the question of slavery, Gods and Generals comes to mind which seems to give the impression that every Confederate General was Anti-slavery.   One of the boys farm has been burned and his family killed giving him a clear motive for fighting other than Slavery.  Most of the boys are motivated by the desire to defend their homes and families, Virginia is being invaded so all other consideration take a back seat.

I didn't really feel I got to know the boys as individuals but simply got a sens of them as a group of friends not unlike my group of friends in high school and I think that works for the film. That's not comment on these actors their characters all feel real its just that its very much a group with a blended personality like most high school clicks.

The second story is the story of the general in charge of defending that valley John C. Breckenridge.    He is faced with the task of defend Virginia's bread basket with too few men we see him making plans with his officers, it gives you great sense of the strategic moves that are under way.  You also get the sense of a man who is running out of options... He doesn't want to win glory at cost of the lives of children but to do his duty he must "Grid the seed corn of the nation" (a line that is not in the film but was used by a confederate contemporary in much the same situation).

There is a touching scene were our two story lines come together as the General meets the Cadets and has a talk with them.   Breckenridge as the last Vice President before the Civil War expresses his sens of responsibility for not having done more to stop this madness before it got started (what exactly that would be is unclear).   He asks the boys for there feelings, what they want out of life, etc. It all feels a little contrived but it makes us feel the impending loss of live in what is already a lost cause.  It also give us some more insight into what motivates these young men, loyalty to each other, to family and to their native land.

The battle of New Market is the next day.  The Director strikes a nice balance between action, and the confusion of battle and the story tellers need to let the audience know what is going on and why.  As a War Gamer this was my favorite part of the movies.  We see the Yankee moves the Confederate counter move and the growing realization that what ever his personal preference Breckenridge will have to use the VMI Cadets in the front line. In the end he calls on the boys and uses them in battle "Send the boys in to the line and God Forgive me for that order!"
To every ones surprise the boys fight well, marching though fire in perfect order and then charging into the teeth of the Yankee position capturing several guns. And winning the day for the Confederacy, though at terrible cost.
 We then get to see several of the boys as they are gathered up dead from the field or as they lay in hospital. The cost of this very transient victory is thus made clear. One boy(who is Jewish) reads from a Bible to comfort a comrade.  Another boy dies while being cared for by the girl he had so shyly courted earlier in the film, her desolation at his death is visceral and speaks for all those who lost a loved one.  I was glad the film chose to give screen time this view of Civil War field hospital.  I really enjoyed this film, special effect were minimal, but the acting and story telling were excellent and as the best war Gaming Movies will in inspired me to paint.  I will be looking for this one to add to my collection