Quiz time! Name any other film about the Revolutionary War. Give up? That's because most of them are turkeys. Mel Gibson (Chicken Run, Lethal Weapon 4) hopes to change this in The Patriot, a Braveheart redux meets The Last of the Mohicans. The Patriot is both a story of epic proportions and length, and suffers from having to live up to the legacy of multiple Academy Award-winning Braveheart. It has its own shortcomings also, but manages to be a decent movie that does not feel as long and is easily enjoyable.
Rather than mine well-known Revolutionary War heroes, Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a composite of several lesser-known historical figures. Martin is both a single father and hero from the French-Indian War. In the War, he committed brutal acts that distinguished him to his peers, but he refuses to speak of them to his family. His oldest son Gabriel (up and coming actor Heath Ledger, 10 Things I Hate About You, Roar) wishes to enlist against the will of his father. Martin is now a pacifist, and wishes to avoid war at all costs. Gabriel does enlist, much to the dismay of Martin. Martin's demeanor changes because of the actions of the British, under General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson, Ride With the Devil, Rush Hour) and Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs, The End of the Affair, Soldier).
Cornwallis is the classic military leader. He wishes to fight an honorable battle. On the other hand, Tavington is not. He believes the rebels are scum, and slaughters civilians, women, and children. Isaacs is a good villain, but somewhat one-dimensional. He has beady little eyes and sneers through the entire movie. The murder of one of Martin's son is what sets Martin off the edge. Martin joins the fight, not necessarily for freedom, but for revenge. Martin will not stop until he personally kills Tavington. The role of Martin is not a stretch for Gibson (remember Ransom?) Gibson is effective as Martin, but not spectacular. A lot of time is spent initially having Martin display his love for his family. He believes family is his responsibility, so he will not fight. The Patriot pushes this strongly, to ensure the believability of his entrance into war. However, watching Gibson ride in slow-motion holding an American flag pushes it.
Then, director Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, Independence Day) and writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) Martin becomes the Ghost, a seemingly invisible force the British cannot defeat. He uses guerilla tactics learned in the French-Indian War. Martin's war is not one of cavalry and expendable infantry, but one of sneak attack and camouflage. Battle scenes are grand, but again overshadowed by Gibson's prior work. Of course, with Martin, the tide slowly begins to turn. Give Rodat credit though, he is not afraid to kill off key characters in the story, and there are a lot of them. Chris Cooper (Me, Myself, and Irene), Tcheky Karyo (The Messenger), Lisa Brennan, Joely Richardson (Return to Me) and Rene Auberjonois (Inspector Gadget) are some of the many supporting characters, most of whom perform well. The Patriot falters when Roday tries to inject political correctness into the story. As unsavory as slavery is, it's pretty unbelievable that Martin, a plantation owner, has "employees" instead of slaves. Otherwise, The Patriot, shot beautifully on location in South Carolina, manages to be a movie about the Revolutionary War worth remembering.
|Haro Rates It: Pretty Good|
|2 hours, 40 minutes, Rated R for strong war violence.|
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