When it's not serving as a promotional tool for the venerable Virginia Military Institute, "Field of Lost Shoes" proves an impressively rendered if decidedly old-fashioned retelling of the American Civil War's one-day Battle of New Market.
It takes a while for the script by David M. Kennedy, Thomas F. Farrell II and Ron Bass to lay out the deep historical context of this true story set in 1864. Between introducing the era's array of political and military figures, the many cadets of VMI, a household of young women who tend to the soldiers and various slaves and slave traders, it can all get a bit dizzying. Meanwhile, identifying title cards feel more like crutches than clarifiers.
But things kick in once Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt), recently appointed by a beleaguered Abraham Lincoln (Michael Krebs), orders Union troops to advance into Virginia's pristine Shenandoah Valley — home of VMI — to face off against Confederate soldiers near the town of New Market. The twist: The VMI's Corps of Cadets is reluctantly sent into battle by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs), who's short of available soldiers. These teenage students are gung-ho, resourceful and reflective but, no spoiler here, there will be blood.
The war scenes and their aftermath are involving and emotionally sound as well as skillfully shot and edited. And if several moments smack of revisionist history, perhaps best to ascribe them to dramatic license.
Director Sean McNamara's ("Soul Surfer") handsome production is well supported by a large cast that includes Lauren Holly, David Arquette, Keith David, Gale Harold and fine younger actors such as Nolan Gould, Luke Benward, Zach Roerig, Josh Zuckerman, Parker Croft and Mary Mouser.
"Field of Lost Shoes."
MPAA rating: PG-13 for war violence, thematic elements.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.