|Directed by:||Roland Emmerich|
|Written by:||Robert Rodat|
|Cast:||Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Tcheky Karyo|
In an ideal world I’d watch The Patriot again to get a better overall view of the film and where it begins and ends. But this is not an ideal world and I’m probably never going to see this again, as much fun as it is to jokingly call it American Braveheart that’s uncomfortably close to what is ends up being but a really, really inferior version.
Set during the American Revolutionary war in 1776, the film finds ex-soldier turned widowed farmer Benjamin Marcus preparing himself and his seven children for an incoming war with the British, a war which his eldest son Gabriel joins to fight in despite Benjamin’s pleads. As the war rages on Benjamin uses his farmland as neutral ground to care for both British and American soliders, however a British Colonel called Tavington burns the farm to the ground as punishment for helping the enemy and during an argument with Gabriel, shoots Benjamin’s second son Thomas and kills him.
Wanting revenge, Benjamin joins up with his old commanding officer and appoints him Colonel of the South Carolina Militia and tasks him with holding back British forces through Guerilla warfare. As Benjamin and Gabriel gather a small force they soon become infamous through the British ranks with Benjamin even gaining the nickname ‘The Ghost’ for his quick kill strategy, however with that infamous comes retaliation with Tavington being tasked with taking down the Militia and using increasingly violent and demented actions to do so.
I’ll say right now, the film doesn’t have enough story to justify its length, granted I watched the Extended Cut which could’ve played into it but even then I think the story’s just not strong enough. Once Benjamin gets his militia going the film just sort of stalls, going over the same routine over and over for a good hour and a half, Benjamin does something so Tavington retaliates so Benjamin does something so Tavington retaliates, each action growing in scale to the point where Tavington literally burns a church full of civilians inside – more on this later because I’ve a lot to say about it – and it just blends together after a while. A few standout scenes are nice but ultimately we’re giving very little to work with that can justify the three hour length.
Character work was varied, some of the small roles like the growing friendship between racist Dan Scott and former slave Occam, Benjamin’s close friend John Billings and Gabriel’s childhood crush Anne Howard were good additions to flesh out the story, Howard especially had a shocking turn to where her story ended up. Others meanwhile like Chris Cooper’s Colonel Burwell, Adam Baldwin’s Captain Wilkins and Tom Wilkenson’s Lord Cornwallis all playing good parts but not necessarily adding much to the story.
Heath Ledger had a decent role as Gabriel but he was overshadowed by his father, what began as a young man wanting to do right by his country against his father’s wishes dissolved into a dedicate but firm soldier but one in his father’s army. Ledger has his moments to shine but this very easily becomes Gibson’s film and he becomes less important as the film goes on.
Speaking of which, to return to the Braveheart comparison Mel Gibson is playing William Wallace, and it’s fucking scary how accurate that is. Lowly civilian, who wants nothing to do with the war against the English, loses a family member to the English, takes violent revenge then joins up with the country army and builds a small group of guerrilla warriors to fight. I was much less invested in Benjamin’s story, for one thing I never bought into his apparent patriotism, he openly went against the county to be a pacifist and only joined for personal reasons, for another he was a much less interesting Wallace. Where Wallace had the charisma to back up why he was leading these people Benjamin was much less expressive and granted that could’ve been intentional, here’s a guy who’s lost his wife and son, his home’s burned to the ground, he’s got a lot of guilt regarding his role in the French/Indian War a few years back and now he’s at War again, he’s not likely to be a fun-loving chap and if that’s the case then Gibson managed a fine job with the character, I just didn’t care for him.
On the other side of things, Jason Isaacs pulls out another great bastard role as Tavington, I mean talk about cunts, this guy took the cake. He kills a boy in his first two minutes on screen, orders the deaths of wounded soldiers, burns homes to the ground just as punishment, the guy was a dickhole, and Isaacs just relished in the role, I don’t know what it is about the guy but he plays such a great bastard in everything he does and this is no exception. That is until they start getting ridiculous with him, eventually Tavington does start to get old with his bastardry and by the time he gets to the church burning – a scene with zero historical basis by the way – it’s gone from sadistic bastard to just plain silly. To the film’s credit Tavington is singled out as being overly violent and brutal but once he’s let off the chain he just goes way too far, we already hate the guy and now he’s ordering open massacres. I just didn’t buy into it and the fact that the church was entirely made up – among other various anti-British sentiments – just sealed the film for me as bullshit, I don’t mean to take away from Isaac’s performance but the writing of the character just got out of hand.
Of course what would you expect from the man behind Independence Day – and Holy shit I just realised that this is a fucking prequel to that piece of shit. I think it’s fair to say I don’t like Roland Emmerich movies, Universal Soldier works as an action movies but that’s held up by Van Damme and Lundgren, everything else he’s done has just been underwritten and overlong. This is about as close as he’s gotten to Universal Soldier in terms of quality but it’s still not enough, nothing really stands out, it’s the problem with making the film this long there’s just so much of the same thing happening over and over that very little of it actually makes an impact.
Not that I’m saying it’s a complete failure, towards the end of the second act things do get a little more interesting, Benjamin walks into the lion’s den and performs a double-bluff on Cornwallis to free his men so in return Tavington does some pretty fucking heinous acts that put the film into some really dark territory. I won’t take that away from the film, there are so dark elements to it but I’ve already said it gets too much so by the end when Benjamin is rallying the troops behind a flag to make the final charge I just found it to be silly.
I’m pretty much done with this review, I honestly didn’t care for The Patriot and I don’t care to go on about it any further. It’s too long of a runtime for too short of a story, Gibson and Isaacs make for a good pair of enemies but Gibson isn’t given enough to make me like him and Isaacs is given too much to make me hate him and the few good moments are lost among repeated segments and historical inaccuracies made up just to make the British more hateable.
Like we need a reason for that.
6/10, it’s scraping a pass but only just.