You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

For Love of Liberty

Ken Burns' shadow looms over this four-hour doc about the U.S. war history of African-Americans.

With:
Narrator: Avery Brooks.

Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, eschewing any oncamera interviews to rely entirely on celebrity readings. Interesting in places, this Black History Month premiere finally feels too much like middle-school curriculum, without rising to the stirring nature of its subject matter.

“They served their nation without their nation ever serving them,” the narration notes, the money line in exploring the valorous service by African-Americans, even as they experienced rampant discrimination and abuse at home.

Still, many similar stories were covered by Burns in “The Civil War” and “The War,” with the benefit in the latter case of receiving first-person testimonials directly from those involved. Instead, “Liberty” director-producer-co-writer Frank Martin opts to let stars do all the talking, which works only intermittently — and can be distracting, frankly, when recognizable voices like Bill Cosby and the late Walter Cronkite pop up on the soundtrack.

Invariably, there are powerful stories scattered within the documentary, from the 54th Massachusetts regiment (featured in the movie “Glory”) to the Buffalo Soldiers to the anguish of African-Americans serving in Vietnam when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Ultimately, though, this production is constrained by its format, methodically moving from war to war, with host Halle Berry briefly introducing each chapter.

Notably, the press release for the documentary includes a gaudy list of high-profile endorsements, including one from Burns, who is partly to blame for making “Liberty” appear stiff and disappointing — having comparatively set the bar so high for this sort of exercise. (In his works Burns also did without dramatic recreations, which Martin uses — sometimes unnecessarily — to augment drawings and video.)

Much of the material within “For Love of Liberty” is certainly worthy of attention. It’s just that watching the four hours makes for an awfully long sit.

For Love of Liberty

Docu; KCET, Mon. Feb. 15-22, 9 p.m.

Production: Produced by Eleventh Day Entertainment. Executive producers, Louis Gossett Jr., Hillard Elkins, Dennis Considine, Richard Hull, Kevin Clark; producers, Frank Martin, Rudy Poe, James Crite; director, Martin; writers, Martin, Jeff Stetson; story, Crite, Stetson;

Crew: camera, Christopher R. Burke, Kim Haun; editor, Jack Sherman; music, Lawrence Brown, John William Doyrk, Alan Lindgren. 4 HOURS

Cast: Narrator: Avery Brooks.

More TV

  • Laura Ingraham

    Fox News Defends Laura Ingraham Amid Calls for Advertiser Boycott

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

  • Netflix Locks Up Deal for ‘Inside

    Netflix Locks Up Deal For ‘Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons’

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

  • The End of the F***ing World

    'Little Boy Blue,' 'La Casa De Papel' Win Drama Prizes at Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

  • KIERSTEN ROBINSON

    Kiersten Robinson Named Universal TV Senior VP, Current Programming

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

  • Gayle King

    TV Anchors Fight to Stay Objective in Coverage of Family Separation at Border

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

  • Seth MacFarlane NPR

    Seth MacFarlane Donates to NPR, KPCC After Slamming Fox News

    Ken Burns’ sizable shadow looms over “For Love of Liberty,” a four-hour documentary about the U.S. war history of African-Americans. Featuring a veritable who’s-who of marquee voices, this sober project makes a stopover on various PBS stations en route to DVD release, but it’s a wooden, almost painfully dry trip through 200-plus years of combat, […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content