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The Patriot
2000 - R - 164 Mins.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Producer: Dean Devlin
Written By: Robert Rodat
Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Chris Cooper, Jason Isaacs, Tom Wilkinson
Review by: John Ulmer
   

No, dammit, you're supposed to be filming over THERE!
Foreword: I originally had much more text about England and the English people in this review, but removed it for fear that some might take it personally. So here is the edited review of...

"The Patriot"

Whoever suddenly declared that Mel Gibson was only a ladies' man was wholly incorrect. This is a guy who has really only made two or three romantic films, but some of the bloodiest action/war films ever made. By any standard he is much more of an action star than a pretty boy like, say, Hugh Grant. When was the last time Hugh led a band of Scottish peasants into a battle against the British and chopped them apart limb from limb? When did he play a suicidal loose cannon? I don't recall him doing any of that.

"The Patriot" has come under attack for being anti-British and pro-American, but having lived in England many years myself, and being maddened at how they manage to make cultural and personal digs at us through both publishing and small talk, I've got to say that I don't feel a great swell of pity for the poor souls who claim that Mel Gibson is an anti-Brit (much like they're now saying he's anti-Semitist--come on, people, we're talking Mel Gibson here!). Honestly, there was a recent UK Burger King commercial that had a British man flying high over New York City (bad area to do a commercial poking fun at America!) in a big blimp, holding the "BK British Burger." People in New York stop their cabs, get out and look up into the heavens at the large burger blimp hovering above them with drooling mouths.

The man in the blimp looks out overtop of the people of New York, smiles, and says, "Sorry, this one's just for us Brits." Then he bites into the nasty thing in his hands, and dabs his face with a napkin, as if eating a crappy, microwaved fast food burger not sold in America is the biggest achievement of his entire pointless life.

The recent Michael Crichton film "Timeline" caused an upset because the Brits thought they were being targeted by America again. Who are going to be the baddies in medieval England, then? The Germans? Japanese? How would that turn out?

The German citizens have been poked fun at and portrayed as evil villains far more than the Brits ever have by any mainstream media. Granted, they were responsible for World War II (d'oh!), but Germans could still go around complaining about how they are represented by American films. They don't because they know that the films are primarily made for Americans, (mostly) by Americans, and that presenting Americans as bad guys isn't always a smart move.

"The Patriot," its pro-American errors aside, is splendid entertainment--the rare type of motion picture that causes an uproar of emotions deep within your heart that make you want to stand up and applaud. So I guess you can say I bought into the picture's "fake" patriotism so many people have been criticizing it about. The film is unashamedly American. I loved it.

I can hear them now: "Typical American, doesn't know anything about history." Ah, but you're wrong--I know a great deal of history. From a historical standpoint, "The Patriot" is surely flawed in more than a few simple ways. But I do not wander into crowded theaters showing films such as "Braveheart" or "The Patriot" looking for a historically accurate tale of things that really happened during the Revolutionary War. I just look for some good fight scenes, emotional moments (contrived as they may be), and at least some decent performances.

"But what about that preposterous British villain played by Jason Isaacs?" you are inevitably wondering. "Wasn't he quite preposterous and silly?" My answer comes straight from the IMDb: The character of Col. Tavington (Isaacs) is loosely based on Col. Banestre Tarleton, who was Cornwallis's cavalry commander. Cornwallis disliked Tarleton's brutal treatment of the colonials and threatened to have him court marshaled on several occasions, but was overruled by General Clinton who was in command of all British troops in America. Like the fictional Tavington, Tarleton was vain and impetuous and often disregarded orders from Cornwallis that he disagreed with. Unlike Tavington, Tarleton survived the war and returned to England where he spent the rest of his life defending his actions in America."

"But," you're probably now saying (or thinking), "it says he is loosely based on a real person. That surely must mean that he is completely fake! No British soldier would ever be so ruthless and evil!"

"And hey!" I'm shouting, "it's a friggin' Mel Gibson movie! Get over it already!"

By establishing the British Col. Tavington as an evildoer, the film creates a sole villain for our hero to kill at the end of the film. "I will kill you before this war is over," Gibson says. "Why wait?" asks the snarling Tavington.

This is pure filmmaking. The clich├ęs and techniques really don't get any better than this. It doesn't take itself quite as serious as "Braveheart," but who would ever think that it would? After all, Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "Godzilla") was behind it. Both of those movies, for lack of a better word, simply sucked. But in "The Patriot," Emmerich has finally found out how to use some ancient filmmaking techniques to his advantage.

They're all here: The Evil Villain, The Uncatchable Hero, the Background Battle, the Emotional Battles, the Children, the Girlfriends, the Deaths, the Romances...everything. It makes the movie click together and, despite its flaws that keep it from attaining the great status of, say, "Braveheart," "The Patriot" is still one of the best films of 2000. People who dislike its historical standpoint can pucker up and kiss it--I'm sick of this stupid garbage about the UK vs. the US. End it, people. It's a movie for goodness sake.

Benjamin Martin (Gibson) is a content farmer living with his six children on a farm plantation at the turn of the American Revolution. With British forces drawing closer to his home, Martin is faced with the choice of returning to battle--where he once reigned as an infamous deadly soldier--or abandoning those ideas to stay home with his children.

His oldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), disobeys his father's orders and decides to fight in the war--only to cause the death of his younger brother at the hands of Col. Tavington. "Stupid boy," he mutters, which triggers that familiar look in Mel's eyes that sends a cold shock down your spine. He's mad, and when his personal inner hell is unleashed upon the Colonel and his men, it ain't going to be pretty. We know it's going to happen. It's just a matter of time.

Benjamin Martin rejoins the fight for Independence and quickly becomes infamous once more--known as "The Ghost" by the British General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), who tries to reason with him--but fails. Meanwhile, Col. Tavington returns and kills Gabriel. It's the last straw, which leads to the final battlefield showdown between Tavington and Martin.

Mel is amazing in this film, as always. I don't buy into what the ladies buy into, of course--I buy into his acting, his charisma, his likeability, and the way he can turn any role into a memorable one (Martin Riggs, William Wallace and Graham Hess are three names I will never forget).

Mel, who has six children, reflects his own life through the Martin character--and turns him into one of the most likable heroes of the past decade. When the end draws nearer and the final conflict between Martin and Tavington comes, you're on the edge of your seat. Is it going to end like "Braveheart" or "Lethal Weapon"? Will he live or die?

You'll just have to find out.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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