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The Rough Riders, television miniseries, TNT, 2000

Writer-director John Milius’ epic new miniseries The Rough Riders does what only a few of the great military films of the past have managed to do. It captures on celluloid the special spirit of the American military experience of the late Victorian era in beautiful Frederic Remington­ style brush strokes without sacrificing the human elements of courage and tragedy.

Tom Berenger’s wonderful film portrait of Theodore Roosevelt is so rich that you will feel that you have seen a slice of the real man’s life. Here is not only T.R. the fledgling warrior but also the overexuberant commander who loves his men and comes to understand the brutal cost of war, no matter how righteous or justified it may seem. Sam Elliott’s Captain William O. “Buckey” O’Neill is an expert study of a hard-edged professional fighting man, trying his best to prepare his troops of volunteer cowboys and New York “swells” for the inevitability of combat.

The pivotal fights at Las Guásimas and at Kettle and San Juan hills are among the best battle scenes ever captured on film. It may be a small-screen presentation, but The Rough Riders’ historical battles scream through the gun smoke like a big-screen epic of the past. These are realistic but never unnecessarily gory film fights that will stand up well next to classics such as Zulu.

The research and historical preparation for The Rough Riders shows through in every frame with authentic uniforming, weapons and accouterments seldom, if ever, seen in previous films. Among military history buffs who love films, The Rough Riders should rate as an instant classic.

Dan Galiasso