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MOVIE REVIEW

Romanticizing war and the Old South

June 08, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

The Civil War romance "The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams" is clearly a labor of love, as one might expect from a story told by actual descendants of its main characters. Julian Adams not only plays his great-great grandfather, Confederate Capt. Robert Adams, and co-directs, but with his father, Weston Adams, co-writes and co-produces. The film is passionately made, but its unapologetically romantic views of war and the Old South leave a bitter aftertaste.

In 1860 South Carolina, Robert meets his best friend's sister, a visiting Yankee schoolteacher. They fall in love but are separated by the war. The captain experiences a lot of action, purportedly thinking all the while of his lovely Eveline; he's captured, escapes, reunites with her, and weighs whether to fight again.

This may be the wrong time for a film that doesn't consider the real causes and costs of civil war. War is an all-too real, serious and present subject these days. But here, carnage needs no justification beyond vague notions of "tradition," and Confederates are portrayed as shining heroes while Union soldiers are seen as soulless, pillaging murderers.

Tellingly, one of the film's first shots is of a slave family enjoying a leisurely afternoon, kids playing, a man sitting on a stump, his exposed back ... unscathed. In this universe, benevolent Southerners love and care for black people; it's invading Northerners who beat the slaves.

Such old-fashioned, black-and-white depictions only distract from the central romance, and that's a shame, because the film's long suit is the chemistry between the leads: Julian Adams, if occasionally stiff, has a strong, sometimes Matthew McConaughey-like presence; newcomer Gwendolyn Edwards shows spark as the beautiful Eveline. Her character is not deeply explored, but the love scenes do work, to the pair's credit.

The script unnecessarily jumps around in time before settling into a straightforward narrative, and the dialogue is strictly boilerplate. There are the occasional symptoms of low-budget filmmaking, including such amusing gaffes as a dead soldier's prominent wristwatch and the hero accidentally firing into the ground (and apparently not noticing) during a gunfight.

Such quibbles aside, the filmmakers' care and detailed storytelling is undercut by their movie's conveniently skewed point of view, which can be summed up by Robert's mournful, noble wish that the senseless bloodshed would end -- voiced after he and his men surprise and mercilessly slaughter a Union patrol.

"The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams." MPAA rating: R for some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., (323) 848-3500.

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