They marched into battle — the oldest were teenagers — in parade order, and charged the enemy like the schoolboys they were. And when the smoke had cleared, there were shoes — sucked off their feet in the mud, torn from bodies yanked by cannonballs, minieballs and bayonets.
“Field of Lost Shoes” is about one of the more storied minor battles of the Civil War, when cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were hurled into action to stop a Union invasion of their corner of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s a sentimental, sometimes moving affair, an old fashioned and conventional young-men-at-war film. It is also at times a reminder of how hard it is to manage a decent Civil War movie on a limited budget, and how hard it is, even today, to tell a Civil War tale untainted by revisionism.
Seven friends, six upper classmen and a freshman “Brother Rat” (Nolan Gould), study and drill at the elite school up until the day in May of 1864 that they’re summoned to save General Lee’s flank by marching from Lexington to New Market.
John Wise (Luke Benward) is a governor’s son. A descendant of Thomas Jefferson (Parker Croft) is in their ranks, the artistic Moses Ezekiel, “our resident Jew” (Josh Zuckerman) is the best shot.
Sam Atwill (Max Lloyd-Jones) falls in love with a local girl — played by Mary Mouser. Lauren Holley plays her mom.
The boys haze, tussle, talk about honor, debate the merits of the conflict and make deals with the kindly slave (Keith David) who runs the school bakery. Old Judge is wise.
“Old men make the promises. Young men got to pay’em.”
Eventually, the young men are called to do just that.
The younger players are adequate, and “star” casting helps in some other instances. Jason Isaacs is a properly droll General Breckinridge, the former vice president who took up arms for the Confederacy.
“Wake up, Yankees. Time for breakfast!”
But a mere look-alike plays Lincoln, Tom Skerritt is decades too old to manage the bluster of U.S. Grant. David Arquette does a lot of shouting as a Union artillery officer.
The battle itself is nicely staged and grimly personal. Hand to hand combat in the mud is not a pretty affair.
But even though the film is not revisionist, it comes darned close. Cadets sympathetically help slaves at every turn, even though this was the patrician class that insisted upon the war and the preservation of that “peculiar institution.”
Wise’s father, Gov. Henry Wise, is painted as anti-slavery, anti-secessionist. This is patently false. Governor Henry Wise was a rabid secessionist, even though his son became a post-war moderate in Virginia politics.
“Soul Surfer” director Sean McNamara may not have had the budget to deliver the scope and sheen of a Technicolor epic. This is no “Red Badge of Courage,” more a small scale “Gettysburg.” But he and his cast serve up enough lump-in-the-throat moments to ensure “Field of Lost Shoes” will at least go over in Daughters of the Confederacy meetings from this day forward, especially in the Old Dominion.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for war violence and some thematic elements
Cast: Luke Benward, Jason Isaacs, Max Lloyd-Jones, Keith David, Lauren Holley, David Arquette, Nolan Gould, Tom Skerrit, Mary Mouser, Josh Zuckerman
Credits: Directed by Sean McNamara, written by Thomas Farrell and David Kennedy. An Arc Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:35