tend to make excellent background fodder for great epic films, and
nearly all the wars that have involved the U.S. have excellent films
associated with them. Viet Nam inspired Apocalypse Now;
WWII served as subject matter for a couple of Speilberg epics as well
as Patton; WWI provides the background for Lawrence of Arabia and All
Quiet on the
Western Front; and of course there is the immortal Gone
with the Wind for our U.S. Civil War. Even the Korean War
has its M.A.S.H. while the French and Indian War
is painted via Michael Mann’s lyrical The Last of the
been anxiously awaiting the definitive American Revolution epic. 1776
is too lightweight, and my childhood memories
of Johnny Tremain gave it more depth than more
recent adult re-evaluation. Thus, I was anxiously awaiting Mel
Gibson’s coming Revolutionary War epic. At long last, would there
now be a definitive film to portray this cinematically challenged
I found myself disappointed. While The Patriot
has its moments, it spends so much time developing subplots and
demonstrating political correctness for American audiences that it
loses any real feeling for its times. Only an idiot could believe
that this film resembles the true history of its times. So, if you
are a filmmaker with plans to make the definitive movie about the
American Revolution, there is a huge opening at the top.
its credit, The
doesn’t have Mel Gibson charging forth yelling “Freedom!” I
almost expected another Braveheart
moment in this film; instead, they make that scene slightly more
symbolic by having Mel rush the British lines armed with the
13-starred colony flag.
Roland Emmerich directing you don't expect a work of art.
Every two years Roland Emmerich rolls out a potential summer
blockbuster. Two years ago it was the wretched Godzilla,
1996 saw the financially successful and enjoyable Independence
Day debuted over the Fourth of July weekend. The
Patriot may be
Emmerich’s best film to date.
this film belongs to Mel Gibson. He dominates the screen whenever he
appears, adding his deepest voice and touches of the same humor that
we have seen in Braveheart.
Make no mistake about it; many people are going to see this movie
because of Mel, and many will over rate this movie because of Mel. The
action sequences are well done and bloody, and Mel is at the
center of these, becoming even more bloodied than he was in Braveheart.
He even strikes the same pose that he does at the end of the Battle
at Falkirk – the one where he kneels with a dazed look.
fact, one of the reasons
that the movie seems to play so long for me is that it borrows so
heavily from other movies that I was replaying scenes from them as I
was watching. Of course Mel (as Benjamin Martin) invites Braveheart
comparisons. Not only is his character and humor similar, but the
theme remains much the same. We have Mel resisting going into battle
because he just wants to be a simple family man. Then fate
intervenes and a family member is killed. Thus, Mel goes off to war
and kicks major butt.
would think that the British had done their research. Mel credits
General Cornwalis as being a great military genius, but never
explains the details. I’m not so sure that marching your troops in
straight lines in open fields and shooting in unison is such a great
idea, but it’s unforgivable that Cornwalis failed to check out
Mel’s previous film history and prevent his colonels from killing
any of Mel’s family. Besides William Wallace, we’ve seen the
same pattern with Max Rockatansky in the Mad
series. There’s also Hamlet
where Mel eventually does forcefully kill the king after a lot of
battle scenes also invoke images from Gladiator
though they are generally done with less fast cutting than Ridley
Scott’s film. The final battle with Mel does use some of the same
computer generated enhancements, so it parallels Gladiator briefly.
It even references High Noon.
occurs when Mel and son Gabriel, aptly played by Heath Ledger (10
Things I Hate About You)
go to recruit their militia “posse.” Gabriel interrupts the
church service and gets about the same response that Will Kane did,
except Anne Howard (Lisa Brenner) intervenes, shames the men, and
gets them to join up. Instantly we know that Gabriel and Anne are
destined for more action. Meanwhile, Mel (no need to refer to him by
his character name of Benjamin) goes to the tavern for fresh
recruits. He gets a much more enthusiastic response than Will Kane
even unintentional homage to Gone
with the Wind
here. Remember how Selznick’s film romanticizes the lifestyle of
the old South, where slavemasters treated their slaves like family. The
stretches historical accuracy even farther. Here the South Carolina
slaves are really slaves at all, but are free men who choose to live
like slaves. Of course the British claim that they are freeing them
and order them to fight on their side, but one “slave” chooses to
fight in the Continental Army to gain his freedom. Early on, token
cracker militiaman makes a racist remark to the slave, but this same
man later tells the slave what an “honor” it is to fight with
area that the film doesn’t attempt to be politically correct or
even historically accurate is in its treatment of the British. I am
certain that this film will never play very well in England because The
portrays the Brits as cardboard characters-- either stogy and stuffy
or completely evil. Cornwalis, played by Tom Wilkerson I (Fennyman in
is the stogy and stuffy General, whose single fault is arrogance.
British actor Jason Isaacs plays Colonel William Tavington as the
heartless personification of evil.
hardly seems human, and perhaps this is what the screen writers had
in mind from the beginning when Gibson narrates, “I have long
feared my sins will come to visit me … and the cost is more than I
can bear.” Tavington visits with a vengeance, providing Gibson
with his sole motivation for joining the Continental Army. While Mel
says that he doesn’t care for “taxation without representation”
-- a school book phrase uttered without any emotional content or any
historical development – this is no fight for freedom and no fight
for independence. Mel’s fight is for vengeance at its lowest level
and for self preservation at its highest. I’m still not sure what
inspired him to carry that flag into the last big battle scene.
film does have some charms. Of course, Mel Gibson’s star quality
and seeing him take on the bloody Brits in battle is a treat, even if
it is unbelievable that he could take on 20 soldiers by himself with
a little help from his young sons. It does achieve audience empathy
for the family to resonate better than the coldness of Gladiator.
camera work and editing are satisfactory and carry the story along.
While it doesn’t “wow” me like some other transitions I’ve
seen, the fading in of the British flag to replace the “Don’t
Tread on Me” flag atop the Charleston capitol was a nice touch to
show that the British had taken over. I would have liked to have
seen more cutting, as this 3 hour film could have told us the story
in 2.5 hours or less without losing a great deal. Sometimes less is
film tries to do too much. It throws in the patriotism angle for the
of July opening without a lot of substance behind it, because this is
a film about family values more than anything. That is its essential
message – a man will do what he has to do to protect his family;
all else is secondary. Enjoy it for what it is.