Worth A Look: 12.68%
Just Average: 24.3%
Pretty Crappy: 14.79%
12 reviews, 212 user ratings
|Patriot, The (2000)
by John Linton Roberson
Mel Gibson is not known for his subtlety, nor imagination in parts he chooses. Apart, perhaps, from the LETHAL WEAPON films, each one is the same; MAD MAX is BRAVEHEART is RANSOM. But this film is so vaporous and boilerplate it makes the others look like sparkling epiphanies of originality. Are there any true screenwriters left in Arizona Bay? This movie is barely interesting enough to review, but let's take a stab...By now we all know the basic elements of a typical Mel Gibson film: family man loses part or all of family, then is changed from reluctant to vengeful. One sees this formula repeated from film to film. Also a particularly sadistic main villain(often with a British accent), often coupled with one who is fey or even gay. (Effeminate people are always bad in Gibson films) Said revenge, as in ROAD WARRIOR or BRAVEHEART, is usually in the cause of helping some downtrodden folk, like the fairytale Scots of BRAVEHEART, who despite their numbers cannot possibly succeed without the much more manly Mel at their helm.
Each film he makes, it seems, is tailored to some fantasy world Gibson likes to see himself as inhabiting(a speculation based upon his famous baby ranch--uh, I mean wife & numerous children). One may assume the death of most women intimate with Mel in his films(MAD MAX, BRAVEHEART, HAMLET, and his wife dead before the start of THE PATRIOT) is a concession to the wife. But I approach the point. Allow me to digress.
A particular continued theme one can discern in Gibson's ouevre is the idea that nothing is worth fighting for except the most personal of causes, i.e. revenging a loved one, not the freedom of Scotland, say. (Though Wallace certainly codes the word "freedom" as "revenge" well, eh?) A defensible point, certainly, from some points of view; not mine, but some. (To me it just goes to show how self-involved and wallowingly petty we have become.) But, though I'm no fan of what some call "patriotism," the word, if it has any positive sense, means a commitment to an ideal higher than even family.
So what has this revenge fantasy to do with any possible definition of "patriotism?"
I'm going to leave aside most issues of historical inaccuracy, except to say that in that sense this movie is utter bullshit. No understanding of the times or the reasons for the revolution, nor of anything, really, involved with the subject beyond a first-grader's misunderstanding of it, perhaps, is present; do not watch this for a history lesson. This film makes BRAVEHEART look like a scholarly documentary. It's history as G.W. Bush probably understands it.
More than anything else, in tone throughout, this is history as told by a drunken football fan which assumes you're as stupid as it is; this is a riotously, insultingly lunkheaded film. It wastes the backdrop of the revolution as yet another chance for Mel Gibson to play the quasi-Wayneish devoted family man and murderous psychopath(why Mel isn't included in Joe Lieberman's condemnations of Hollywood I'd love to know; he revels in sadistic,cathartic violence the like of which I've not seen since some 80s slasher flicks). It's not a story; it's a carnival ride with the usual attractions, with a different visual motif.
It concerns a planter in South Carolina(loosely based on the considerably more vicious Francis Marion), in whose backyard the entire war ends up being waged. I am only slightly exaggerating; if you weren't paying careful attention you'd swear that was indeed the case. His eldest son, an earnest, handsome, and thoroughly annoying, self-righteous young fellow, joins the continental army against his fearful father(Gibson)'s wishes.
There appear to be slaves on the land, at first, but no; this being the poltically-correct Hollywood that has taken to rewriting history, they are somehow paid, free employees. Though it would have been wonderful if this had been so, no planter in South Carolina at the time, in reality, would have let him keep his land; they were paranoid of freedmen in Carolina and there were few if any. South Carolina was the center of white southern racism and the economic center of slavery. His neighbors would've been profoundly racist even if Gibson's character wasn't and an example of free blacks would not have been something his fellow planters would have wanted, not to mention that it was economically impossible to run plantations in the south then without the savings slavery brought the pecuinous planters, which is why the South was dirt-poor even after Reconstruction.
This lie, done only to make sure Gibson's character will seem completely saintly, is particularly cruel to, perhaps, a black child who might see this and then find out what really happened later. To play with history this way is not kindness, it's more a slap in the face. And a patronizing one. And an insult to those who suffered under slavery.
Back to da plot: Just to be mean(seriously), the British general marches onto Gibson's land and murders his younger son(complete with--I'm not kidding--a slow-motion "NOOOOOO!" from Gibson), and burns his home. Gibson rushes into the upstairs of the inferno the house now is, and takes out his weapons He Hasn't Touched Since The Awful Things He Did In The French And Indian War, and though he may have not wanted to participate in this war and risk his family, It's Personal Now.
Far from not risking his family, he distributes these weapons among his youngest sons (10 & 12) to save his eldest from being hanged. Let me emphasize this: He sends his youngest sons in ahead of him on a killing mission to save his eldest.
Not exactly family values.
Afterward is essentially a revenge mission disguised as war, where he gathers a Ragtag Army Of Regular Fellas(complete with funny/crazy guy that Mel can roll his eyes at, like the Irish fellow in BRAVEHEART or the Gyro Captain in ROAD WARRIOR) culminating in Gibson's army beating no less than General Cornwallis himself in a battle I must have missed when I was inundated with this crap as a kid during the bicentennial. That's right, Mel Gibson and his family win the revolutionary war.(they mention another battle afterward but it's presented as trivial, as a foregone afterthought, much like Bannockburn at the end of BRAVEHEART) At no point, by the way, does one see General Washington involved. Funny, that. (We see a brief postage-stamp image of his shadowy figure passing at Valley Forge, that's it)
The war appears to take place in 6 months, judging by how all the children at the start of the film(1776) are the same age at the end. At least the children that make it to the end; both Mel's son's have to die, you see(and not a bad thing; when the eldest blond one died, I have to say I was overjoyed the only time in the film), for him to have his moment of heroic vengeance. Which, despite his having been given vicious wounds in every part of his body, he walks away from, soon forgetting his woes in the laughing of victory. (All the middle-aged men live and the young men die; this part at least is true to life)
The villains are, as usual, made unbelievable monsters to justify their being killed as brutally as the rating system will allow; the British are treated, as usual, in a profoundly racist way by Gibson, who seems to believe them a nation of sadists and poufs. Or any combination thereof. They commit atrocities the British never, ever committed, including acts actually performed by the Gestapo. As though the Boston Massacre wasn't enough, for god's sake. Is anyone else besides me bothered at this trivialization of history? Probably not.
Gibson likes to posture about his characters feeling regret for violence, but unlike in, say Clint Eastwood, that doesn't make them hesitate from it. After their amazingly successful assassination mission,his youngest sons say how much they're glad they killed the British officers. Granted, the officers killed their brother, but the relish they get from it--even after seeing their father commit what appears to be meant as a pointlessly gratuitous act with a hatchet--is disturbing, almost seeming a romanticizing of Columbine. Compare the scene when the boy says "I'm glad we killed them; I'm glad," with the scene between Will Munny and the Scofield Kid after they kill the cowboys can UNFORGIVEN. At no point are you allowed to forget that, no matter what they've done, they're still people being killed and killing is usually rather ignominious. It's not till the end when Eastwood has a reason to commit a truly personally sadistic act and the weight of the violence becomes overwhelming; you're looking at necessity damning a man's soul, not this walk-away-from-it-with-a-laugh idiocy of Gibson's, who wants to have his gore and eat it too.
Speaking of which, this film has the most comical gore I've seen since the Tiger scene in MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE; that's exactly what the limbs severed by cannonballs look like when Emmerich shows them repeatedly. It's shown so slowly the fakery is obvious. I giggled.
The script isn't even worth mention, except just a little:
"How many times have I heard you speak of freedom at my father's table?"
That's the only original line in the film, and it sucks.
The rest is a half-made souffle of cliches, one after another, that makes one wonder if they even bothered to write a script(and if the untalented Robert Rodat really did write this, I'm sorry, he should be given lethal injection),or just filmed the outline.All in all, Mel's revolutionary war re-creation society was well-filmed, but that's about the only nice thing I can say. It's not good or bad. There's not enough to it to have much of an opinion but aggressive indifference.
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originally posted: 11/03/00 02:38:39