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The Alamo

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Alamo

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton
Director: John Lee Hancock
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 137 Minutes
Release Date: April 2004
Genres: Action, Western, Drama

*Also starring: Jason Patric, Emilio Echevarria, Patrick Wilson, Maurice Ripke, Laura Clifton, Philip Olivas, Jett Garner, Todd Reimers, Nick Kokich, W. Earl Brown, Matthew O'Leary

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

Each year that I taught American History in a Brooklyn high

school, I'd play folk songs. This was back in the 1960s when

both traditional banjo ballads and protest songs were de rigeuer

among the kids, many of whom considered themselves proudly

on the left of the political spectrum. Yet one of these songs

went like this:

Santa Anna gained the day/Hooray/Santa Anna,

He gained the day/ All along the plains of


Odd melody, odd song to be playing to red-blooded kids in

Brooklyn, one which glorifies the ruthless politician and general,

elected president of Mexico in 1833, Antonio Lopez de Santa

Anna Perez de Lebron. That's quite a mouthful. And Santa

Anna, as played in John Lee Hancock's "The Alamo," is quite a

peacock, decked out in red and white as was the fashion in the

Mexican Army just as it was the style of the British Redcoats

during the American Revolution a few decades earlier. The cast

of characters in the American Revolution, the Texan Revolution,

probably the rebellion by Mexicans against Spain that gave their

country independence--fought like real men, face to face, hand-

to-hand, not like terrorists or like the black-pajama-clad Viet

Cong troops that came to life at night and ambushed President

Johnson's troops during the ill-fated Vietnam War. What John

Lee Hancock tries to do with Leslie Bohem and Stephen

Gagham's script here is to create a nationalistic ode to America,

particularly to show his audience what is meant by the battle cry

Remember the Alamo! He succeeds, but only in spots. Where he goes wrong is

presenting the leading characters on both sides as caricatures,

each with a single trait that determines his actions and goals.

He might have tried more to break through the deadly mold of

history texts that drain the life out of each heroes and villains


For example,consider the most important character in "The

Alamo," played awfully well by Billy Bob Thornton whose long

sideburns could have been the model for the tonsorial practices

of men during the late sixties and early seventies. Thornton

performs in the role of Davy Crockett, known by some today as

King of the Wild Frontier, but who is given a pulse in the drama

of the Battle of the Alamo. Crockett is shown to have the

background of a Tennessee congressman, one known as a guy

who'd wrestle alligators and who in one scene enjoys the

performance of an actor on the stage who is cast with a cap

made of from a heft slice of dead fox.

Crockett's principal opponent, General Santa Anna ((Emilio

Echevarria), is determined to put down the rebellion of the

Anglos who, perhaps looking at the situation like Monday

morning quarterbacks, should never have been given

permission to Anglos to come to Mexico's Northeast region to

settle and develop the land. Decked out in costumer Daniel

Orlandi's best finery, Echevarria plays his role in a somewhat

effeminate manner, raising his voice to one of his own officers

just once, relishing the thought of taking back the fort occupied

by the settlers many of whom having become Mexican citizens

and Roman Catholics at Santa Anna's orders.

With Jason Patric as the knife-wielding Jason Bowie, dying

from a combination of TB, malaria and typhoid, Patrick Wilson

as the effete lawyer and newly appointed Lt. Col. William Barrett

Travis; Dennis Quaid as the hard-drinking General Sam

Houston whose order to his fellows to quit to the Alamo goes

unheeded by the 189 men stationed therein; the stage is set for

two major battles. One skirmish results in the disastrous fall of

the Alamo to Santa Anna, leaving all defenders dead while

liquidating perhaps over 1,000 Mexicans; the other, following

the idea in Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" to redeem that awful

event with Doolittle's raid over Tokyo, shows the settlers under

Sam Houston smashing the Mexican general's army while

persuading Santa Anna to sign over what is now the state of

Texas to the Americans.

We do see parallels to the present, most notably how the error

by Santa Anna in dividing his army into three groups, thus

weakening his forces where they're needed most and leading to

his defeat finds a parallel, perhaps, in President Bush's

command to remove large divisions from Afghanistan to pursue

a similar government overthrow in Iraq.

History does occasionally come to life, but "The Alamo" is

filled with long, aimless chatter, unconvincing, ham-fisted cries

of patriotism--even a scene of an equestrian Dennis Quaid

riding a white steed that twice lifts its front legs high into the air

before taking off for the Battle of San Jacinto.

"The Alamo" has its moments: what war film does not? But

the repetitive banter, particularly that of the dying Bowie who

seems to breathe his last only to come to life, then fade again,

then pop up once, could have been excised. More battles; less


Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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