Edward Zwick's account of the experience of a group of African-Americans who served in combat during the Civil War is a rousing display of pageantry. The film was based partly on the letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the commander of the all-black 54th Regiment of the Massachussetts Volunteers, a unit formed to test the widely doubted ability of black troops to serve in combat. The film details the racist indignities to which the black soldiers were subjected, such as a lower rate of pay than white troops and delays in receiving provisions. The drama of the black regiment's training sequence, such as it is, revolves around the ability of Shaw to remedy these problems. Zwick has fabricated a group of four black characters to represent a cross section of the regiment, but, as in a WWI movie, their only purpose here is to bond and prepare to fight. As the film approaches its climax, with James Horner's theme becoming more throbbingly insistent, it's consumed almost entirely in the kind of pageantry that was John Ford's specialty. Just as this begins to become annoying, Zwick plunges one back into the horror of war in the attack on Fort Wagner. While one can quibble with aspects of the film, such as making a white officer the lead and narrator, the surfeit of TV-movie-like uplift, and the lack of substance in the parts of the black characters, all are outweighed by value of the film in more widely disseminating an invaluable piece of history. The project benefits from tremendous performances by Morgan Freeman as the unit's elder statesman, and Denzel Washington, who garnered an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.