THE PATRIOT (2000) ** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

“Braveheart” set during the Revolutionary War. That’s what the creators of “The Patriot” seem to be associating their new summer blockbuster with… and it’s no mistake. Mel Gibson’s on board as another larger-than-life man, motivated by revenge and ultimately, fighting for freedom. It may be exciting, but falls short on originality and genuine sentiment.

Gibson plays widower, Benjamin Martin, who raises his 7 children alone in rural South Carolina. When the government votes to fight for independence from England, Ben refuses to get involved after having a belly-full of killing while serving in the French and Indian War. His son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), rebels against him and joins the U.S. militia. After a battle near their homestead, Gabriel becomes wounded and hides in the house as Ben and his family care for the wounded “red-coats”. The evil, British Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs) comes along, burns down the Martin house despite their compassion for the red-coats, orders Gabriel to be hanged, and needlessly murders one of Ben’s pre-teen sons (????). Enraged, Ben goes on a killing rampage, saves his doomed son from hanging and proceeds to single-handedly win the war.

Gibson once again plays the same character as William Wallace from “Braveheart”, but perhaps with a little more maturity and style this time. Another Australian, Ledger also does a good job, except for the goofy romance scenes with Lisa Brenner in her atrocious feature debut. Veteran actors Chris Cooper and Tcheky Karyo seem miscast in boring roles as high-ranking American and French soldiers respectively. Joely Richadson gets no meaningful dialogue as Gibson’s sister-in-law and new love interest. The children of the family also seemed too nauseatingly cute, as if their freckles had been hand-painted on their faces. I really can’t blame the cast for the films problems this time. The fault lies with the filmmakers…

When I learned that Producer Dean Devlin, Director Roland Emmerich and Writer Robert Rodat were helming “The Patriot”, I had a bad feeling about this project. With unintelligent films as “Stargate”, “Independence Day” and 1998’s “Godzilla”, I had little faith that Devlin and Emmerich could pull off a serious, period-film. After seeing “Patriot”, I felt justified. I enjoyed “Independence Day” for it’s entertainment value, but “The Patriot” did no real justice to war epics due to its being over the top and insincere. Rodat, the writer of “Saving Private Ryan”, proves once again that he can overdo the violence and excess to create a misguided war movie.

“The Patriot” is another example of a new generation of film style that I call “New Exploitation”. These are big-budget films that disguise themselves as “A-list”, high art, Academy Award contenders. They contain the most revered actors and pretend to be about serious subjects with valid, socially conscious themes. If the filmmakers or actors believe they are creating high art, then they are sincerely fooling themselves. These films are actually, thinly-disguised exploitation films, built to showcase an excess of gore, violence, assorted taboos and atrocities. Not that this is terrible in itself. Films with no clear-cut, socially redeeming value (like The “Shaft” films, “Mondo” movies and 99% of all horror pictures) can have artistic value. There is a venue for that, but not in a movie that promotes itself as something more than what it is. Films such as “The Patriot”, “Braveheart”, “Rob Roy” and “Saving Private Ryan” fall into this category which seems to have some consistent elements: Cartoon-like, evil, Arch-villains; indestructible or morally infallible, demi-god heroes; one-sided and biased portrayal of enemies; unneeded propaganda messages; failed attempts at political correctness; and most importantly… shocking gore, violence and excessive gross-outs. The filmmakers defend the gore/grossness by claiming it’s closer to reality. Sure, gore is real but to revel in it detracts from and betrays the themes and morals that these films claim to uphold. It’s sort of like false advertising and I, for one, am somewhat offended by it.

One of the most disturbing scenes involves Martin, employing his two remaining, pre-teen sons to take up arms and help him slaughter an entire platoon of red-coats. An example that this “R” rated film is certainly inappropriate for younger viewers. All other age groups may appreciate the exciting action, but “The Patriot” has the potential to disturb the easily upset. Also, be prepared for the 2 hr. and 37min. running time.

Scale of 1-5:

Most refreshing aspect about the film:
Interestingly enough, there were some things to like here. The sets and the settings looked absolutely gorgeous. So much in fact that this film could win an award or two for production design, possibly costumes as well. Even if overdone, the action is rousing. Some of the key scenes were done terrifically in spite of the bad ones. Another impressive feat is the lack of plot holes. The filmmakers leave no stone unturned, paying everything off in the end. An incredible feat if the sentiment had not been so flawed.

Biggest gripe:
I have four… 1. Evil Colonel Tavington was too outrageously evil. He slaughtered women, children, slaves, wounded soldiers, etc. with directionless pleasure, making him more evil than Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter combined. His unprovoked murder of Ben’s younger son was a ridiculous, unbelievable plot point. Also instead of his superiors bringing him up on war crimes charges, they offered him the territory of Ohio. Simply poor writing choices. 2. The love interest scenes, meant to inject a bit of humor and heart into the story, also seemed silly, corny and inappropriate during all of the carnage. 3. The themes and story were too similar to “Braveheart”. I was hoping for a little more originality from Gibson. 4. Cutting off the last 15 minutes of the film would’ve changed my opinion about “The Patriot” drastically. However, Hollywood always has to end with a big explosion and upbeat conclusion.

Biggest surprise:
Despite my distaste for this film in principle, I’m actually RECOMMENDING it as a summer, popcorn movie. It has everything you could want… action, romance, tragedy, etc. It was very entertaining and exciting. However, history buffs, looking for something believable, substantial and accurate, might be as offended as I was.

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