The Patriot
directed by Roland Emmerich
(Columbia TriStar, 2000)

The Patriot has often been called the American Braveheart, and the comparison is a good and valid one for more reasons than having the same leading man. In both films there is a struggle for independence from an oppressive monarchy (in both cases, England). In both films Mel Gibson plays a man unwilling to fight -- until circumstances force him into the fray as a fighter and leader. In Braveheart, it was the murder of his wife by a cruel English sheriff which caused William Wallace to join the struggle to free Scotland from the English yoke; in The Patriot, plantation owner Benjamin Martin is convinced to join the American Revolution after his son is gunned down and his home is destroyed by a cruel English commander. But while his first Scottish battle enlisted the aid of an entire clan, Gibson strains the limits of credulity here by taking on an entire troop of English redcoats with only two young sons to fight with him. Of course, he wins.

As The Patriot tells it, Benjamin Martin is the only man on either side of the conflict who realizes that marching regiments in straight lines into the massed firepower of the foe is a bad idea. He quickly trains his ragtag band in the art of guerilla warfare (which served Braveheart's Wallace so well) and sets out to kill redcoats.

Those who enjoy scenes of wholesale slaughter on the battlefield will love this epic tale. Muskets and pistols, plus the occasional cannon, sword and tomahawk, stain the fields of South Carolina red. We witness hundreds of deaths; some hit harder than others, such as Martin's young son Thomas (Gregory Smith), a young newlywed (Lisa Brenner), a small red-haired boy and his anguished father, an entire church filled with helpless townsfolk ... and more. There are scenes in The Patriot which are not easy to watch.

The bloodshed is leavened with episodes of young romance, extreme civility among officers, ink-filled tea, melted toy soldiers, pilfered journals and a pair of turncoat canines. The focus on friends and family makes The Patriot a fuller, more colorful spectacle. Particularly well-handled is the relationship between Martin and his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger). It is Gabriel's fervent patriotism which initially creates a rift in the family, but soon draws Martin into the war where he develops a strong bond of cameraderie with his son.

The only real disappointment in The Patriot is Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), the villainous English commander who carries out a brutal and merciless campaign against colonial soldiers and civilians alike. Tavington is two-dimensional in his evil, and in the midst of so many well-rounded and developed characters, it's hard to believe someone so flat.

The events and main characters of The Patriot are not based on figures from history, but even if things didn't really happen that way exactly ... well, I have a feeling they should have. Check out this movie and prepare for a wave of national pride.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 4 July 2001

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