“Well researched, intellectually admirable, and beautifully photographed . . . Based on the novel by 19th-century historian Harold Frederic, Copperhead has a screenplay by Bill Kauffman that resonates with astounding facts and observations. The natural settings of New York in 1862, filmed at Kings Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick, Canada, are so unfiltered through the lens of time that you could swear the Civil War was still taking place within firing distance. From the stark house paints to the bucket benches and redware milk jugs, the sets are authentic, filled with priceless antiques. The cinematography has the museum quality of colonial oil paintings. . . . If every war has more than one side, this story of one man who dares to stand against the tide of history has a contemporary relevance that remains uncontested.”
-Rex Reed, New York Observer
-Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
“I highly recommend seeing the film”
-Charles Cummings, American Civil War Today
“Director Ron Maxwell, whose previous Civil War dramas include Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), has created a beautifully filmed period piece.”
-Nav Qateel, Influx Magazine
“Maxwell’s film does an excellent job of portraying the plight of a thoughtful man hedged about by an unreasoning community.”
-George McCartney, Chronicles
“Maxwell has done it again. Copperhead is a thoughtful look at the politics of the war far away from the lines in upstate New York…Like his other moves: beautiful, well done, and thoughtful. Five stars.”
-John Kranz, Three Sources
“4 out of 5 stars for being unique, timely, and well played.”
-Kathleen L. Maher, History Repeats Itself
“There’s…more to think about here than you’ll find in any special-effects-driven summer blockbuster. This is a thought-provoking and well-made film, one well worth seeing.”
-Daniel McCarthy, The American Conservative
“Ron Maxwell has done it again…an extraordinarily powerful film”
-Jeffrey Tucker, Laissez Faire Book Club
“…an instant classic.”
-Joel Poindexter, Tenth Amendment Center
“This is a war movie that neither sanitizes war nor pornographies it. This is a war movie set far away from the war, in upstate New York to be precise — just as all of our wars today are far away from all 50 states. It’s an unpredictable movie, an engaging movie, a personal drama that makes the Civil War and the politics surrounding it more comprehensible than a gazillion tours of battlefields or hours of PBS specials.”
-David Swanson, War is a Crime.org
“The film mirrors our own time: do we tolerate dissent, especially during a war? And it also reminds us to be ever vigilant for tyranny by the majority. The ideals of democracy are not always easy to abide by. This film puts a human angle on the Civil War and encourages us all to contemplate ‘the empty chair,’ both then and now.”
-Patricia Ann Owens, Film-Forward
“Copperhead is a beautiful looking movie that leaves space for consideration of matters of morality and politics.”
-Joe Tyrrell, New Jersey Newsroom
“a smart, thoughtful screenplay by Bill Kauffman…Angus Macfadyen…dominates every scene in which he appears…Ron Maxwell’s film will prove entertaining and thought-provoking…a drama with real ideas about patriotism and dissent in times of conflict. It is a worthy entry in our growing list of Civil War cinema.”
-Christopher Schobert, The Playlist
“Copperhead is visually stunning…an instant classic…If you only spend your money on one film this summer, and are the type of person who wants to come away from the theater really pondering what you’ve just watched, this is the film for you.”
“This is a movie well worth seeing…for its accurate depiction of the times, its rich narrative, and the unique, rarely discussed subject matter”
-James Simpson, PJ Media
“The carefully crafted script, knowledgeable director, and perfect costuming make Copperhead a great entry into the pantheon of Civil War movies.”
-Zach Mandell, Movie Room Reviews
“There is nothing in film history like Copperhead, in which war is seen to chip away at the foundation of a community and drive wedges of enmity between those who should have been at peace. It is a great lesson about what the fever of war can do to anyone…I highly recommend this film.”
-Norman Horn, LewRockwell.com
“This film, the latest Civil War-era historical drama from director Ron Maxwell, goes to the one place where “Gettysburg” and “Gods and General” didn’t: Home. Bill Campbell plays a Northern farmer who can’t stomach the thought of a war between the states: he sits out the war, drawing the ire-and worse-from his passionate neighbors. It’s a terrific film, anchored by Campbell’s slow-burn performance.”
-Erich Van Dussen, Rochester Post
“Copperhead is not another Lincoln hagiography, but a film about love of place, love of the Constitution, and the difficulty of following the Nazarene’s injunction to love one’s neighbor. That is the film’s great contribution.”
-Christopher Orlet, The American Spectator
“Hollywood has never given us more than a superficial look at the homefront during the Civil War, thus making Copperhead a long overdue and much welcomed addition…a wonderfully told story that lays bare the emotions of that turbulent time…beautifully filmed.”
-Larry Alexander, Lancaster PA Sunday News
“Director Ron Maxwell follows up his classic Civil War films, Gettysburg and Gods & Generals, with a powerful, intimate drama about the war’s impact in upstate New York, far from the battlefields.”
“Copperhead the movie makes you think…It’s worth seeing”
-Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times
“Maxwell and his cinematographer, Kees Van Oostrum, do a fantastic job…The original score by Laurent Eyquem is very beautiful, and haunting…Copperhead is a powerful film…highly recommended.”
-Steven Hancock, Civil War Diary
“Copperhead is a beautifully made, thoughtful movie.”
-Bradley Keyes, Strike the Root
“a wonderful movie to watch with the family.”
-Sami K. Martin, Christian Post
-Martha M. Boltz, Washington Times
“Copperhead is a Civil War drama without bloodshed, blazing muskets or epic battle sequences. Its story is more quiet, but no less profound.”
-Christian Toto, Breitbart/Big Hollywood
“Fascinating…thought-provoking…compels us to examine our own assumptions about both a tragic historical event and about narrative conventions.”
-John P. McCarthy, America
“tells a desperately important story.”
-Debbie Holloway, Crosswalk
“Billy Campbell delivers a wonderfully understated performance.”
-W. James Antle III, The Daily Caller
“offers uncommon insights.”
-Stephanie Merry, Washington Post
“fascinating and compelling…You have never seen a movie like Copperhead.”
-Thomas Lifson, American Thinker
“emotionally powerful…the acting is superb.”
“This is a movie with a script that is for a change equal to the complicated politics of the dangerous moment it explores.”
-Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Swans Commentary
“beautiful and well-acted.”
-Shay Lynn Lynch, Red Carpet Crash
“Its subtle intensity pulls you in, making you care about these people and what happens to them.”
-Hannah Goodwyn, CBN
“After directing two epic Civil War films in Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, Ron Maxwell with Copperhead narrows his focus to a small community in upstate New York but delivers a film as tense and combustible as any of his battle films.”
-Michael Leaser, World Magazine
“Director Ron Maxwell’s “Copperhead,” is the sixth Civil War-era film to debut in the past 12 months, the most earnest and straightforward in a burgeoning sub-genre. Nearly 150 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, The War Between the States remains Hollywood’s favorite war.
Well, not exactly. Compared with the storms of steel that rage over huge chunks of modern World War II dramas (see the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan”), recent Civil War films tend to shy away from direct depictions of the fierce, internecine violence that characterized the conflict. Hollywood prefers the Civil War omnipresent but almost invisible, as though it took place on the dark side of the moon. It is much easier, I suppose, for American audiences to stomach their boys killing Nazis than killing each other.
“Copperhead,” a slight, talky picture, as chaste as a schoolhouse kiss, is emblematic of this absence. As antiwar dairy farmer Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) confronts his rebellious son (Casey Brown), pro-war neighbors, and the town’s wrathful abolitionist leader (Angus Macfadyen), Maxwell provides only oblique indications of the nation’s war footing. Certain of these are terrifically poignant; the best moment in the film may be a shot of the townspeople gathered in the main square, scanning lists of the Union dead for familiar names.
In avoiding the guts-and-glory excesses of the conventional war movie, “Copperhead” achieves an admirable historical veracity — the politics of the war writ small, tiny Shilohs and Antietams fought over the quality of milk and the rights of immigrants. This is more than can be said about “Killing Lincoln,” a National Geographic Channel docudrama based on Bill O’Reilly’s tendentious book of the same name, much less the historical fantasies of “Django Unchained” or “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” On a micro-budget scale, scrappy VOD title “Saving Lincoln” tells the story of a man dedicated to protecting the president by placing its actors against 3-D digital CineCollage settings created from historic photographs. Even Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” whose accuracy I defended in November, is far more effective as a rich, partial biography of a complicated president than as a document of the age in which it’s set.
Yet the homefront melodrama of “Copperhead” is a fabulist’s war story, too. The film culminates in a grief-stricken, frankly hectoring sermon whose central thesis — all opinions are equally valid as long as you share them politely — defies the very history it depicts. Like the Stations-of-the-Cross Abe who sinks the final minutes of “Lincoln,” the loyal presidential bodyguard whose devotion animates “Saving Lincoln,” or the bloody inversion of slavery’s brutality that colors the cotton in “Django,” “Copperhead” aches for moral clarity.
This ache is at the heart of our collective obsession with the Civil War era: it is part of the relative invisibility of the war itself in these films, the relative absence of enslaved men and women, the hiding of individual and collective struggle behind abstractions and analogies. Righteous fantasy is this subgenre’s cruising altitude.
Indeed, this proffered dreamscape is the topic’s enduring appeal, perhaps the main reason why the volume of new productions and their blockbuster box office and ratings numbers suggest an audience much broader than avid history buffs. Since the days of “The Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind,” Civil War-era movies have proven fertile ground for the playing out of Manichean contemporary politics: segregationist, integrationist, Black Power, “post-racial.”
For own our historical moment — in another seemingly endless war bound up with race and nationhood and the meaning we give to “Freedom” — the subgenre’s forceful implication that our righteous fantasies will come true has a certain appeal. We’re not obsessed with the war, per se. We just want a Hollywood ending.”
-Matt Brennan, Now and Then: Hollywood’s Civil War Obsession
“After a map shows the relative positions of Virginia and New York, and the voice of a lad we’ll come to know as Jimmy suggests what the Civil War, already a year old, will do to his home, we see six boys strolling down a green country lane. It’s so idyllic, their exuberance, their all-so-different hats that each thinks makes him an individual, that you can’t help thinking of Huck and Tom in Hannibal, though these boys are a shade older. Their discussion of the war is fanciful and childish. And yet they are the very age – and some will be the very boys – who will cause, and be victims of, the carnage that ravaged America in the War Between the States.
If you, like I, are a fan of writer-director Ron Maxwell’s two Civil War epics, GETTYSBURG and GODS AND GENERALS, then COPPERHEAD is decidedly not the movie you would expect to conclude his war-between-the-states trilogy. And while Maxwell intends indeed to make it a trilogy – read my accompanying interview with Maxwell – this is not that film. Those films are about military officers, professional soldiers. This is a film about privates; at worst, about cannon fodder, the world and the homes and families that produced them. The war, in fact, is never seen, though it is a perpetual off-screen presence whose effects upon a remote community in upstate New York are the core of the story. Harold Frederic wrote the novel in 1893, basing it on the memories of his youth in Utica, New York, during the Civil War.
Because it is the parents who produce these lads, it is also the story of the title character, Abner Beech (Billy Campbell), a dairyman and lumberman who sides neither with the Union nor the Confederacy. While he has no love of slavery, he is more concerned that President Lincoln is ordering Americans to fight Americans, a demand he believes to be unconstitutional. For this, Abner Beech is labeled a ‘copperhead,’ the pejorative the anti-slavery Republicans used to describe Democrats who would rather negotiate a quick peace with seceding southern states than end slavery and preserve the Union. It is also the story of Jee Hagadom (Angus McFayden), a barrel-maker, crushed after the death of his wife, his life taking on new meaning with his abolitionist obsession.
But mostly it is the story of the callow youth, and most of us can see ourselves, to our chagrin, in either the ones who blindly parrot their parents’ political beliefs without understanding them, or those who arbitrarily reject those beliefs as a sign of their independence. And some of us can see ourselves in both. Abner has a son, Jeff (Casey Brown) a bright and likable fellow, smitten with Hagadom’s daughter, schoolmarm Esther (Lucy Boynton), and he maddens his father by spouting Hagadom’s opinions. Abner suspects Hagadom is directly responsible for the growing hostility the community is showing to him, sabotaging his ability to make a living, so he’s not open to his son’s often sensible comments.
Esther is having things no easier – her father has told her it would kill him if she married Jeff. Her brother Ni (Augustus Prew), who has no wish to be a soldier, is crushed to be a disappointment to his father. Jeff’s parents have raised an orphan, Jimmy (Josh Cruddas), nearly as a son, and he, too, is torn between loyalty to his adopted family, and his desire to think for himself.
Some looking for adventure, some to impress a girl, some in a fit of pique, the boys go off to war, and Abner and his family are not only minus a son, but soon become the stand-in victims of a populace that wants to get their hands on their Southern enemies, but cannot. The rising level of abuse and cruelty, inevitably reaching its brutal, destructive crescendo, is as upsetting as it is familiar, because times may change, but human nature does not.
All of the international cast is strong, but worthy of particular note is Peter Fonda, in a low-key performance as the blacksmith, sounding board for Abner and others, who has strong opinions, but a rarely encountered open mind as well. COPPERHEAD is about the effects of war, and the people who fight wars, but it is not about war itself. You won’t get that rush of thrill and terror, because the battles never reach the screen, since they don’t reach the town, though the often shattered remnants of the war do come back. COPPERHEAD is a thoughtful, well-made, involving film that raises difficult issues without presenting facile conclusions. There is much food for discussion here. My one criticism is that the tone is at times overbearingly solemn, in a way that, combined with a sometimes perfect but sometimes somber score, grinds all action to a halt. A house-fire that promises some excitement is drawn into slow-motion at a time when you desperately want things speeded up. But for all the darkness, it is a hopeful, inspiring story that will transport you to a world you’ve only read or dreamed about, populated by people you know all too well.”
-Henry C. Parke, Henry’s Western Round-up