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The Patriot

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Patriot

Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger
Director: Roland Emmerich
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 164 Minutes
Release Date: June 2000
Genres: Action, Drama, War

*Also starring: Joely Richardson, Lisa Brenner, Donal Logue, Leon Rippy, Gregory Smith, Mika Boorem, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Adam Baldwin, Tom Wilkinson

Review by UK Critic
1 star out of 4

You don't send a boy to do a man's job. Roland Emmerich -- the director of such dreadful action films as "Independence Day", and the recent "Godzilla" remake -- should not have been assigned an epic about the American Revolutionary War. It's nonetheless unsurprising that my opening maxim never occurred to anyone involved with "The Patriot". After all, they did approve a script in which two small boys are given guns and told to shoot at British people in the woods.

The tots are about ten years old, or maybe a little younger. The film's hero, played by Mel Gibson, is a widower whose farm is unjustly attacked by 'Redcoats' (the nickname for the Brits); he's also the one who supplied the kids with their weapons, and ordered them to commit murder. After their shooting spree, when Gibson is tucking the lads into bed, one of them reports "I'm glad I've killed, pop!"

America -- although a film as blindly patriotic as this would never admit it -- already has enough gun-crazed maniacs. Their defence for bearing arms is that 1) the constitution allows it, and 2) they need to do so for home protection. With scenes like the one above, "The Patriot" serves as an incitement of those freaks, and also of the pathetic flag-wavers who wear stars-and-stripes shorts at street parades and recite "We really do live in the land of the free and the home of the brave!" as if paraphrasing a line from one's national anthem is the same thing as seriously examining one's country.

"The Patriot" is being advertised as the Revolutionary War equivalent of Gibson's great Scottish epic "Braveheart", but it's nowhere near as entertaining, and does a much more methodical job of demonising the British while glamorising a revolt. The narrative essentially consists of Gibson and a small band of merry men wandering around the country discussing "the cause"; although now and again Gibson meets up with his family, or there will be another attack from those horrid Recoats. Of course there is a token black character among Gibson's troupe, who gets some racist comments at first, but then apologies, so none of the Americans come off looking evil.

When the level of the storytelling becomes apparent, we hold out hope that we can at least expect some spectacular sequences of dumb action. But there is hardly any fighting until the climax, when comes a highly implausible battle scene, with Gibson running through the bloody lines unharmed, carrying the American flag. Then he thrusts it into the ground and has a ridiculous clash with a British officer (Jason Isaacs), where each man wields two swords in each hand, and juts them at each other in time to swashbuckler music chords. To picture this, recall the Jim Carrey comedy "Cable Guy", with its parody of the famous "Star Trek" fight.

Gibson opens every scene with a flustered, confused expression and then turns it into a frown. It's like "Braveheart" going senile but sporadically returning to his old self. The dialogue that he and all the other actors have to speak varies from horribly stilted ("Men! Richly fight for the cause about which you spake!"; "Father... this yonder boy be two years younger than I!") to nonsensical ("I'm a parent, I don't have the luxury of principles") to lazy and pedestrian ("Daddy, daddy, come back!"). And there are scenes of ineptitude, such as when Gibson's platoon creep up behind a British ship, and then Emmerich cuts to a wide shot to show the boat blow up. How the hell did that happen? Did they throw a hand grenade? Where did they find one of those, being in the 1770s an' all?

Like "U-571", another dreadful recent war movie, "The Patriot" has drawn fire for its reworking of history. The real-life figure Gibson's character is based on was known for shooting civilians for sport, and raping his slaves (in the film, he doesn't even keep slaves; the Negroes working his land are free men). And William Tavington, the English colonel who the screenplay pits him against, did not murder children or use any unorthodox tactics. Even if you don't care about the facts, "The Patriot" is incompetent and disappointing. I dragged a buddy to the screening with me, and felt compelled to apologise both during and after. I think I'll ring him again right now.

Copyright 2000 UK Critic

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