Review from Los Angeles Times
"Pharaoh's Army is Taut Tale of Moral Choices in War"
Written by Kevin Thomas

Drawing from a story passed down over the years in rural Kentucky near the Tennessee border, writer-director Robby Henson, in his beautifully articulated "Pharaoh's Army," brings war down to an agonizing personal level, where individuals, faced with people very much like themselves, are forced to make the toughest of moral choices. By concentrating on telling a story exceedingly well, Henson creates far more impact than had he tried to send any obvious anti-war messages.

Had a young Union soldier (Huckleberry Fox), one of five men on a foraging mission in the Cumberland Mountains, not been climbing down from a hayloft on a rickety ladder, there would not have been any story to tell. But the ladder gives way, and he lands on a pitchfork. His captain, John Abston (Chris Cooper), has no choice but to stay put in an attempt to treat the young man's serious wounds under the most primitive conditions. The small farm with a cabin is home to Sarah Anders (Patricia Clarkson) and her adolescent son, referred to only as Boy (Will Lucas). Anders, whose husband is off fighting for the Confederacy, has just reburied her young daughter, who had been dug up in the local graveyard by Yankee sympathizers.

Anders understandably is the most unwilling of hostesses, but Abston is an uncommonly decent man who joined the Union forces specifically to free the slaves. A farmer himself, he is soon plowing Anders' field and chopping her wood. Although Anders remains wary, she and Abston find themselves relating to each other like human beings rather than enemies. Indeed, Abston, three years a widower, is clearly longing for a wife and his home, so like Anders' place. Inevitably, Abston's kindness to "the enemy" is not going to sit well with all his men, and suspense develops as to just how long this brief time out from war will last and how it will play out.

Henson is consistently imaginative in developing the predicament the captain finds himself in, and his film proceeds with an ever-increasing sense of tension and danger that emerges from the fully comprehensible conflicting loyalties, emotions and wartime paranoia of its people. He is as astute at directing his first-rate cast as he is in establishing mood.

Playing a man of unusually strong moral fiber and capacity for reflection, Cooper makes Abston a most appealing and admirable man. Taut and spare, "Pharaoh's Army" has an authentic look and feel to it and has a restrained, evocative score by Vince Emmett and Charles Ellis.

In a cameo as a Southern sympathizing preacher, Kris Kristofferson has the line that explains the film's curious yet not entirely prophetic title: "The Pharaoh sent his army to fight Israel, and they drowned in the Red Sea."

* Rated PG-13 for brief violence and sexual content. Times guidelines: Some wartime bloodshed; too complex and intense for small children.

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