After putting out some of the shittiest films ever (ID4, Godzilla), the team of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich decided, just like Ridley Scott did, to break away a bit from the Sci-Fi genre that gave them so much success, and failure, and start being a more genre reliable film team. They took this step by teaming up with the makers of Saving Private Ryan, and the result is The Patriot, an unquestionably more solid film than any other film Devlin and Emmerich have ever done. It has a lot of improvement and is more stable and viewable, but still a bit shaky in some parts of the film. Lets take a look….The Patriot is the story of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the French Indian war with a dark past due to it, and a father of seven children, living in the year that the American Revolution started. His eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger), wants to go to war, but Benjamin wisely advises him and forbids him to go, since he knows firsthand that war IS hell, and he doesn’t want Gabriel to experience that same fate. But Gabriel is adamant, and when the revolution comes, Benjamin backs down, but Gabriel sees this as an opportunity and signs into the army.
"Finally a Devlin/Emmerich film that doesn’t suck, well, kinda"
During the war, Benjamin just sticks with his gardening, up until the day that wounded liberation soldiers come for refuge to his house, and Gabriel along with them. And then the British arrive, fronted by the brutal Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), and while taking Gabriel prisoner, his other son, like 15 or 16, tries to stop it, and Tavington shoots him, just for the hell of it, and burns down his house. BIG MISTAKE, since Benjamin, now armed with rage and vengeance and nicknamed “The Ghost,” decides to make this war personal, and goes on to save Gabriel and both go on to arm their militia and fight the British, who are headed by General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), and is the superior officer to Tavington.
Loosely looking at it, it seems more like a rehash of Braveheart, since there’s countless similarities, but still the film stands up on its own thanks to a few striking and great details. First of, the plot sure has a few coughs but also a few standouts, in most parts it travels smoothly up until it heads to the revenge parts. The action scenes were great, and also some of the best I’ve seen. The cinematography was the big highlight in this movie, shot by the great Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff). His camera work, along with the slow-motion techniques and stuff, was some of the best camerawork I’ve seen in a long time. It was perfectly well made that you could feel the thrill crawling on your skin, just watch the excellent scene of the standoff between Gabriel and Tavington. Apart from being exciting, the action sequences are also from time to time disturbing, like the scene where Benjamin and two of his sons go off to free Gabriel from the British, we see how the kids get their first taste of blood, and the kid’s eyes are open as they finally understand in a bloody and brutal way why was Benjamin so adamant in telling his children not to go to war. It brings out the worst in you up to the point of sadism and psychosis.
The film, in all its length is basically a view on the pros and cons of vengeance and brutality, on how peace can be so volatile. The film achieves this, but within lays a problem. The film is basically a historically inaccurate telling of the American Revolution, the few plotholes in the movie proves this (the African-American soldier - unfortunately, absence of Washington, Cartoonish British soldiers, among others.), but the biggest flaw that lies within the movie is within its message of vengeance. Sure, we know what vengeance can do, but unfortunately, it exaggerates to the point of being annoying. It’s like the film is trying to add enough hatred and bile in to you to really hate the British for personal reasons, and not for the real causes of the war. Sure, we’re looking at a case where it’s personal (Benjamin Martin), but it concentrates too much on Martin’s revenge and exaggerates it so much that it almost completely misses the point of why the struggle of the US to become independent, and his own struggle. Yes, the war is basically the background, but still, bringing out the hate for the British in such exaggerated way is not the best way for it and therefore ruins somewhat the film’s message, takes away some of its seriousness, and it’s reduced to just another summer movie.
Another problem with it is that it makes the entire British army look like a bunch of barbarians and sadists. Of course, I know that within a nation there will always be somebody as bloody and fucked in the head as Tavington, but the film’s bash at the British soldiers and basically cast them, as “the bad guys” was totally a wrong move, since it’s cartoonish and ridiculous. Again, I know it uses I as a background, but the film’s plot relies on it so much that in the end it becomes confusing, and completely ridiculous. Those two fatal mistakes, for me, killed another promising great movie, since it concentrates on all this but forgets completely about the many other realisms of war, and now it affected the rest of the Americans, especially African Americans, which were again, poorly represented in this film. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s a completely bad movie, it’s a good entertaining film, with lots of action, and stuff you might expect from a summer flick, but unfortunately, it’s quest for greatness falls short due to these major flaws.
Nonetheless, the performances in the film were great. Mel Gibson gives another believable performance as the gutted and vengeful Benjamin, Heath Ledger as Gabriel was ok; he looks like he’s set to be another heartthrob. Jason Isaacs was good, though his character seriously needed a little bit more work, because at times it behaved cartoonishly. The rest of the supporting cast was also up to standards.In the end, even though it’s just an average film, I’d still recommend you to see it, only for the value of entertainment that it has, since it delivered on that level. It’s action packed, sometimes comedic, and also gory, typical for a Robert Rodat script. Also, I’ll give a little bit of credit to Devlin and Emmerich since they did improve a little bit on their filmmaking and made at least a decently viewable film. Good try guys; hope your next project is better, lets hope.
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originally posted: 10/18/01 16:15:31