What happens when you put together veteran actor Mel Gibson (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers) with Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) on a production like the periodic movie, The Patriot ? Well, there are two possible outcomes; A spectacular action adventure with stunning visual scenes, superb acting and action to die for (excuse the pun). Or......A melodramatic, historically inaccurate, mush of a movie with intermittent good acting, weak character development, over the top battle scenes and a movie made purely to cash in at the Box Office. The Patriot, as it turns out, actually falls somewhere in between.
Braveheart made an absolute mint at the Box Office and won 5 Oscars along the way. It didn't take an Einstein to realise that there was a growing market for big period war productions so long as the story was good, the direction was spot on and the lead actor chosen could carry the demanding role of a war hero. Mel Gibson was the obvious choice for the lead part, considering the massive success of the aforementioned epic and his long reign as one of Hollywood's most cherished leading men. Emmerich on the other hand may not have been the first man to spring to mind when considering a Director. Emmerich tends to favour the fantastical, usually unbelievable kind of film where effects and set pieces rule the day. The Patriot on the other hand is a movie based (very) loosely on actual historical events and the addition of a certain amount of factual accuracy would help carry the movie and give it the credibility such a piece deserves.
Consider Gladiator for instance. Directed superbly by Ridley Scott and acted incredibly by Russell Crowe. This was a movie that avoided melodrama yet kept passion at the fore, stayed clear of historical inaccuracies yet maintained action and excitement throughout. Scott and Crowe were the perfect combination for such a project, unfortunately in The Patriot, only the same can be said of Gibson.
Set in South Carolina during 1776, Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, retired Colonel who wishes to put war and fighting behind him. His wife has passed away and he is left to care for his not inconsiderable family consisting of seven children. The eldest of them, Gabriel (Heath Ledger) enlists in the army to fight the Revolutionary war for America's right for independence from England ( I maybe should say 'Britain' but you only ever hear 'English' accents throughout this movie!) against his father's wishes, for Benjamin has seen enough bloodshed during his time fighting in the French and Indian war.
Gabriel is consequently captured by evil British soldier, Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs) who also burns down the Martin's family home shooting dead another of the children in the process. This moves Benjamin into action, initially on a quest to free his son and as the story develops, on his journey to assist and ultimately lead a group of fellow Americans against the 'evil' Brits.
It seems to me that Gibson's character is not the Patriot at all, his motives are not that of patriotism but rather of revenge for the death of his son and the rescue of his eldest son. In fact, it is Gabriel, the eldest son, who seems to be the true Patriot. It is he who is fighting for his independence and his country. But this is a minor point. What is annoying (especially to a Brit) is the portrayal of the British as the most evil civilisation and the Americans as the most perfect race on earth. This does lead to many historic inaccuracies such as the line where Gabriel makes a speech to a black slave who is fighting alongside him. He says, "We are fighting against the Old World, and Old Ways, this is the New World, and there will be no slavery in it". In actual fact, Britain abolished slavery some forty years before the US did! Ok, I know it's a movie and they have artistic licence, but we do seem to be put through the grinder in these pieces. Just look at Braveheart to see what I mean. Here, the English, and more specifically Colonel Tavington represent the very epitome of evil.
Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin was originally to be based on a real life colonel called Francis Marion, a continental army colonel who became a militia leader after the fall of Charles Town (now Charleston) to the British in 1780. Nicknamed the “Swamp Fox” due to his ability at hiding in the South Carolina waters and the intelligent guerrilla warfare tactics he utilised.. But it soon became apparent that this man's personal life was less than riveting and the writers thus decided to use a fictitious lead character instead, based around real events and real people.
But one thing they did get right on The Patriot was the authenticity of the locations and sets. Employing the assistance of the Smithsonian Institution as key consultants , Emmerich was keen to capture the true look and feel of the time. It may not be up there with Gladiator for the impressive sets and special effects helping capture the essence of the era, but it still looks darn impressive. Emmerich uses CGI sparingly and to great effect.
The Patriot is saved from complete oblivion by the two main actors, Mel Gibson and Jason Issacs. Clashing like Obe-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, the good against evil aspect is way, way over the top but thankfully the actors both produce excellent performances and pull it off admirably. Issacs has that face where you always think of him as being the bad guy, but he has played such a part in only a few movies ( Captain Hook in the 2003 Peter Pan and Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter spring to mind) but none would compare to his role in this film. Truly loathsome! Gibson is...well, Gibson! He has the ability to act with great emotion yet, seem totally understated. I am a huge fan of his ability and when he is onscreen, this movie is elevated to way above where it deserves to be.
The Patriot is an average movie and occasionally it is lifted to an above average status by the performances of Mel Gibson and Jason Issacs. The additional footage amounts to about 10 minutes and helps fill out the characters a little better especially that of Colonel Tavington. This takes the movie to a little under 3 hours and to be honest it does drag a little. It could have been so much better had the material been handled by a different director. For all its melodrama and specifically aimed appeal towards its home audience, it seems the biggest patriot in this movie, is the movie itself.
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