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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 Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

The Revolutionary War has barely made much of an impression in cinema history, especially with the forgettable "Revolution" by director Hugh Hudson that was a huge flop back in 1985. It only takes someone like Mel Gibson to give the audience what they want: a feverish action picture using history as an excuse for gangland warfare, which is what makes "The Patriot" a success. No quill pens, no rousing speeches, only an abundant supply of blood and guts. "The Patriot" is not much more but it has the potential to be more than it is.

Ponytailed Gibson plays the fictional Benjamin Martin (based on the real-life "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion), a widowed father of seven kids living in South Carolina during the turbulent times of 1776, just after the Revolutionary War had started. Martin is opposed to the war, and is against his older son (Heath Ledger) from joining to fight the fight, namely against the British Redcoats. In one crucial scene, Gibson tells the people at a convention that why fight a war where there is one tyrant thousands of miles away when there are three hundred one mile away, or something to that effect. That scene resonates strongly but is soon forgotten in the way of grisly, gory violence.

Martin faces an ordeal of his own when the redcoats come to his home where he is caring for the wounded soldiers, and a sadistic, volatile British leader, Colonel Tavington (Jason Issacs), murders one of Martin's sons and all the wounded in cold blood. Now Martin is mad as hell, and is in full-killing mode as he takes his family out of his home, now burned to the ground, and brings his sons with rifles in hand to take out twenty redcoats. The scene is intense and bloody as Martin, armed with a musket and a tomahawk, slices and decapitates with nary a trace of respite - he is Mad Max bent on an unending ode of vengeance. He also forms a militia, bent on destruction and murder all in the name of freedom from the British.

"The Patriot" is a revenge tale, as packed with thrills and action as one can expect. Gibson does this kind of role perfectly, and he exudes the humor and pathos of a warrior with a dark past as he did in "Braveheart." But I was somewhat bothered by the characterization, notably when reference is made by other members of the militia about Benjamin's days fighting the French and Indian War (he finally explains all to his son about his beastly, brutal methods). If Martin is such a ferocious, animalistic warrior, why is he so opposed to the war? Sure, he does not want his sons to join but why is he so unwilling to fight the fight? It only takes having one of his own family members killed for Benjamin to change his mind, but the one brutal scene where he tomahawks a redcoat repeatedly hints at other aspects of the character that the writer, Robert Rodat, and the director, Roland Emmerich, are unwilling to explore. There is a crucial line of dialogue, spoken in voice-over at the beginning, that suggest more levels to Martin's personality: "I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me." They have, but "The Patriot" does not cut it as a character study, it is pure action targeted to entice viewers, not to make them think about what war does to men. A shame coming from Rodat who explored this theme ever so briefly with "Saving Private Ryan."

As an action picture, "The Patriot" delivers in more ways than one. The performances also hit the right notes, including Tom Wilkinson as Lord General Cornwallis, who leads the British troops in the South - his battle strategies have always been exceptional but he has underestimated Martin's militia. I also like Heath Ledger, a strong young actor who holds his own with Gibson and does a fine job playing his son. There is also a nice throwaway role by Rene Auberjonois as the courageous pastor who joins the militia (as pastors did in those days) - if only there was more screen time devoted to him. The rest of the militia are depicted as stereotypical one-dimensional grunts. And Tavington, as played by Issacs, is so unredeemingly evil that I only wish some hint of humanity was placed there. He is also given the benefit of the old "the killer is never really dead" syndrome. Please, those idiotic syndromes have no place in cinema anymore, especially an ambitious action picture like this one.

"The Patriot" is fine entertainment, dazzling, humorous and exciting (watch out for that cannonball that aims directly at the audience at one point). There is an instant visceral charge to it, but there is no intellectual weight, and no true moral resonance. In its fervent patriotic spirit, it says that it was the right thing to fight the war and to die for your country to acquire independence. It just doesn't tell us why.

Copyright 2000 Jerry Saravia

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