Growing up in a household where my father enjoyed more than several films and miniseries of the Civil War era, I feel somewhat vaccinated to films of the period and even will occasionally watch Gods and Generals or Gettysburg when they appear on television. In addition, for whatever reason when I heard the person responsible for those movies did a made for television third film set in a similar era, I was interested.
Ron Maxwell directed Copperhead, which is based on a 19th century novel written by Harold Frederic and adapted into a screenplay by Bill Kauffman. Set in 1862 New York, a sleepy New York community is strained by the escalating tensions of the War. A farmer named Abner Beech (Enough) has reservations not only about taking up for the Union side, as his friends and family seem to be doing, but also about the War itself. His objections earn him a derisive title called "Copperhead," something that Jee Hagadorn (Angus Macfadyen, We Bought A Zoo) tacitly approves of. Abner's son Jeff (Casey Thomas Brown, Dirty People), who wants to be called Thomas (after Thomas Jefferson), decides to fight for the Union, leaving his girlfriend Esther (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) at home. Esther is Jee's daughter and the family is abolitionists. As the film goes on, the war's existence strains relations among the townspeople further.
Though I enjoy some of the stories within Maxwell's other films and he has a knack for getting to a human connection well, his other films suffer from pacing problems and Copperhead is not that different. At 120 minutes, it is less a question of anything really happening in the film (which little does), but it tends to take a long time in painting the canvas and setting up the players in the story in order for it to be wholly enjoyable. At times, it is difficult to see what lasts longer, the movie or the actual Civil War. Copperhead has its heart in the right place, it just does not express it well.
The ensemble is not bad, Campbell actually replaced Jason Patric early in the production and does capable work as Abner. The romance with Jeff and Esther is nice enough and Brown and Boynton possess chemistry in the roles. Macfadyen brings a nice touch of gravitas, complemented nicely by Peter Fonda (The Limey), and the veteran actors work well with the less familiar faces.
Copperhead does a good job about talking about the war and illustrating the pros and cons from differing viewpoints, surprisingly so considering the era. Nevertheless, in between the length of the film and the myopia of focusing too long in too narrow a spectrum, the investment the viewer makes is squandered. It is nice to see the Civil War from a different perspective, but having it be an unfocused rambling one does not help things.
The AVC encode to grace this 2.40:1 widescreen presentation on Blu-ray is amazing. You get ample image detail in the foreground and background, displaying the countrysides and other exterior shots superbly, and the woods possessing a multidimensional appearance to them. Fabrics and woods have discernible textures that could be spotted, colors appear natural without oversaturation and black levels are deep and consistent throughout. It is breathtaking to watch.
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround rules Copperhead but frankly does not get a lot to do. Dialogue is fine for most of the film, but the soundtrack suffers from a lack of channel panning, directional effects or subwoofer engagement to make for an immersive experience. Creatively at a 30,000-foot level, it is a dialogue-driven Civil War film that does not have a lot to do sonically and the experience suffers additionally as a result.
You will get nothing and like it.
Copperhead is an interesting idea and devotes itself to the dialogue and authenticity as best as possible. But it has trouble overcoming the hump from first to second act, and while the performances are okay they get drowned out by a story that takes its sweet time to get where it's going and tends to not care what you think about it. Technically, the disc looks great and sounds fine, though the lack of extras does not help things. Worth a rental for fans of Civil War films at the very least.