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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 John Beachem
2½ stars out of 4

Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a former war hero who now runs a plantation with his family in late 18th century South Carolina. The rest of the country is up in arms about King George's taxation from England, and they are crying for revolution. Martin says he will not fight, but his son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), joins the colonial army against his father's will. Martin's friend, Col. Burwell (the excellent Chris Cooper), is Gabriel's commanding officer and promises to look after the boy. Martin tries to go on with his life, but soon finds himself drawn into the conflict when the sadistic British Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs) destroys his home and his life. Martin decides to seek revenge by joining and eventually leading the local militia. His ambush tactics and countless victories cause the British to give him the nickname "The Ghost". As Benjamin and Gabriel continue to win victories, the British decide that more brutal tactics are in order. General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), who is in charge of the South Carolina aspect of the war, employs Colonel Tavington to use whatever means are necessary to bring Martin in. This includes going after his family, being watched by his deceased wife's sister, Charlotte (Joely Richardson).

I must admit, "The Patriot" wasn't quite what I expected after seeing the movie's trailers. I think I expected a massive, three hour long epic like "Braveheart", but it was... well, something quite different. Actually, that's one of the biggest problems with this movie; "The Patriot" is never quite sure what kind of movie it's trying to be. It switches around amongst several possible genres without ever finding one that quite fits. At times the movie is a glorious war movie, then a movie showing the horrors of war, then a social commentary, a history lesson, a heart-warming family movie, a sappy romantic movie. The list goes on and on, but I'll stop here rather than driving what I'm trying to say through your head like a rail road spike. Despite this and a cliche ridden plot, "The Patriot" is still a decent and entertaining movie thanks to some great acting, costumes, scenery, and music. It also features some magnificent battle scenes, courtesy of Roland Emmerich's ("Independence Day") astute direction. When "The Patriot" stays on the battlefield, it's rousing and entertaining; when it tries to be more emotional, things go somewhat awry.

Mel Gibson gives an outstanding performance and leads a strong cast through an otherwise weak script. Gibson's acting is interesting; he appears wooden and emotionless at first but develops more and more emotion as the story goes on. Heath Ledger ("10 Things I Hate About You") delivers a promising, if somewhat inexperienced performance, as the brash and willful son. Off the battlefield, the film is at its best when dealing with the father-son relationship. Ledger and Gibson are backed up by a colorful supporting cast composed of good, reliable actors like: Rene Oborjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as a Reverend turned warrior; the always great Chris Cooper; and Tcheky Karyo ("The Messenger") as a French soldier who offers his services to the revolution. The only weak link in the cast (but what a weak link it is) is newcomer Lisa Brenner as Gabriel's love interest, Anne. Not only does she give a terrible performance, but she delivers a key dramatic speech to a crowd of supporters, at one point, and does it so poorly I actually started laughing out loud. Last we have Jason Isaacs ("Armageddon", "Event Horizon") giving a great performance in a horrible part. Isaac's historically inaccurate character is about as chiched a villain as is possible. The man does everything but laugh maniacally and twirl his moustache (thankfully he doesn't have a moustache). Yet Isaacs is such a good performer and was obviously having such fun with the part, it really didn't matter.

There are a lot of things working for "The Patriot" and nearly as many working against it. On the for side we have some great performances, good direction, interesting battle scenes, and yet another wonderful score from John Williams (can the man do no wrong?). Against it we have a cliched script, one really bad performance, and a story that doesn't know where it's going. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to see this. I felt the battle scenes tilted the pros in favor of a higher rating. Speaking of the battle scenes, one of the first ones we see is truly fascinating. It involves Benjamin Martin attacking a caravan, practically on his own, and defeating every soldier in it. This was a fascinating scene because the tactics used by the British were quite historically accurate (and obviously very poor since they were beaten by one man), and there was a realism to the scene that you don't often get in these kinds of movies. I'd best warn those of you who are faint of heart, "The Patriot" takes no prisoners and edits nothing out. We see all the horrors that come with war, including innocent men, women, and children being slaughtered by the enemy. A few of these scenes are absolutely heart wrenching (some people in the theater broke down crying). "The Patriot" runs a long 164 minutes, and as interesting as the movie may be, it feels that long. I'd recommend it to fans of Gibson since he turns in a stellar performance, and to anyone who enjoyed "Braveheart" since the similarities are obvious. History buffs (like me) will find certain segments painfully inaccurate (I'm pretty sure 18th century muskets weren't capable of that kind of accuracy, and George Washington played a slightly more significant role in the war), but should still have a good time catching historical references. I give the film three and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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