By Fred Harvey
The History Place
The impact of the American Revolutionary War on
one family is examined in this film chock-full of battle re-enactments
and excellent period scenery.
The Patriot, directed by Roland Emmerich
and starring Mel Gibson, offers a fictionalized look at a South Carolina
militia group comprised of American misfits. They are led by reluctant
warrior Benjamin Martin (Gibson), a seasoned veteran of the earlier French and
Indian War, who still regrets his participation in the uncontrolled savagery
that occurred back then.
Martin, it turns out, can wield a hatchet like
a kung-fu warrior and soon proceeds to filet a hapless group of British
soldiers. That's in retaliation for the murder of his young son by British Colonel William Tavington, played exceptionally
well by Jason Isaacs. The vicious Tavington believes in war without limits
and will kill any American, regardless of age, when it suits his purpose.
His uncontrolled brutality contrasts with the gentlemanly rules of conduct
rigidly adhered to by senior British commanders, including General Charles
Cornwallis, played superbly by Tom Wilkinson. The terrific acting of these
British performers is simply a delight to watch, a feast for the dramatic
The Patriot shows us warfare, 1700s-style,
when neat columns of men stood face-to-face and blasted away at each other
with hand-held cannons they called muskets. And when they couldn't get
a shot off, they hacked away at each other with swords and bayonets
for good measure.
Americans, the film reveals, quickly discovered
that fighting face-to-face with the most powerful army in the world in
an open field was a dumb idea. So they resorted to quick hit-and-run attacks
by home-grown bands of militiamen who knew every nook-and-cranny of the
land they were fighting on, which of course was their own. They were quite
effective at harassing the British and even sending them on exhausting
wild goose chases.
The sprawling historical events portrayed in this film are
big enough to overcome the oddly dull performance by Gibson, who never
seems to find the right emotional 'voice' for this role, at times even
looking a bit foolish (as in the big crying scene). Perhaps he's just trying
too hard to hide his Australian accent, but unfortunately he winds up sounding
Another complaint is the over-use of slow motion
photography during numerous battle sequences. Slow motion photography in
fighting sequences is just dated and cheap looking at this point. This
film not only utilizes slo-mo but super slow-mo in which the action is
further slowed so you can really really see the blood spatter as the guy
gets chopped with a sword or struck by a musket ball or whatever. If anything,
they should speed-up these men-killing-men sequences like Spielberg did
in Saving Private Ryan, because these guys are actually in a jittery
state of shock. That aside, much praise should be given to the filmmakers
for beautifully recreating the look and feel of the late 1700s.
Fans of traditional good vs. evil drama will enjoy
the morality play in which the ultra-evil Col. Tavington is pursued and
confronted by good guy Martin. Fans of historical battle re-enactments
will enjoy just about every minute of this film.
Rated R - For violence.