Well, I didn't fall asleep this time. This movie kept
my attention by keeping the action going which is good because it clocks
in at 2 3/4 hours. This is the story of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson)
whose character is loosely based on a real person, Francis
Marion, the Swamp Fox. In the revolutionary war, Marion waged a guerrilla
war against the British while hiding out in the swamps of South Carolina.
That is the basic outline of The Patriot. Gibson's character and
his cronies are a bit like Peter O'Toole and his Arabs in Lawrence
of Arabia. They don't like taking prisoners. This makes them indistinguishable
from the evil villain of The Patriot. He is a Colonel Tavington
(Jason Isaacs) who also likes to kill, kill, kill. Basically, this
movie is a major downer. Not only are there very few good guys to root
for, but nearly everyone gets killed before the end. Gibson, playing
his Lethal Weapon character
transferred to the 18th century, is not one of the good guys although he
begins the movie by refusing to fight because he wants to take care of
his motherless family. Really, he's afraid to fight because once
he does, he likes it too much. The plot of the movie can be described
as, British bad, Americans good. It doesn't get any deeper than that.
General Cornwallis does try to put the brakes on some of the bloodiness
of Colonel Tavington, but he is depicted as more interested in his dogs
and his country estate than in beating the Americans. They have tried
for a gritty feel to this movie but a much more successful movie along
these lines is the civil war movie, Glory.
That movie pioneered the cannonball decapitation scene. A similar scene
in The Patriot where a cannonball is coming toward the camera really
does make the audience duck. You will also be thinking about Braveheart
as you watch Gibson ride up and down the line of troops with his American
flag. Nevertheless, much of the movie is compelling. Gibson does
his usual good job and Heath Ledger does well as his oldest son who runs
off to war. Other scenes don't work at all such as one early in the
movie where Gibson literally chops up a bunch of Redcoats with the help
of two of his sons aged about 8 and 6. The audience was laughing
out loud during this scene. Also, the characters in The Patriot
are loaded with 21st century sensibilities which don't ring true particularly
in the way Gibson and his family treat blacks. This is South Carolina,
afterall. There are a couple of ironic scenes as we see the flag
changing atop the South Carolina capitol. I think a film about the
real Swamp Fox with a more than one-dimensional depiction of the revolutionary
war would have been more interesting. A much more multi-dimensional
depiction of the complexities of war in North America in the 18th century
can be seen in Last of the Mohicans.
But war is hell and The Patriot certainly gets that idea across.
It depressed me.