Sentimental but stirring salute to Ulysses S. Grant that visits the former Civil War general and American president near the end of his life, as he suffers stoically with poverty and throat cancer while struggling to complete his memoirs.
Previously dismissed as a cigar-chewing drunk who ruthlessly wasted troops in battle, presided over a corrupt administration as a two-term president, and blithely permitted Sherman to carry out his brutal slaughter of Native Americans, Grant is becoming the darling of revisionist Civil War historians. For them, the Ohio-born warrior is an American icon whose triumph over alcoholism, depression, and business failure taught him that war was not a God-given opportunity to fight romantically for a worthy cause but, rather, a horrific contest in which survival was more important than winning. Parry (The Wolf's Pack, 1998, etc.) opens his story at Appomattox, with a mud-spattered, unusually perceptive Grant quietly enduring Lee's aristocratic bombast out of pity for his beaten rival. The narrative then leaps ahead to a New York surgery where a team of physicians can't bear to tell the former president, recently impoverished by a corrupt business partner, that he has less than a year to live. After refusing offers of public and private charity, Grant agrees to write his memoirs for Mark Twain's nascent publishing company, hoping to earn enough to provide for his wife and children. From here on, a series of battlefield flashbacks fill in some of the more speculative blanks in the memoir, where Grant learns from his awful misjudgments and draws strength from so much wartime misery—strength that helps him complete his book and die with amazing dignity.
Awkward transitions and blustering characterizations of Twain, Sherman, and others don't undercut the emotional punch here: Parry's burnished Grant is nothing less than an American saint, whose proud but lonely end will bring tears from the most hardened Robert E. Lee fan.