The History Place - Movie Review

The Patriot

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 palate.

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 blandly American.

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.

The Patriot - Official Website
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