Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a fictional character based on a number of
real men who fought in the Revolutionary War, not the least of which was
Thomas Sumter. Just as Sumter didn't want to fight in this war until the
British burned the cottage that his wife and son were in, so Gibson, as
Martin, needs a son to die before he, too, signs on for the fight. Once he
does, he's in a role that bears resemblance to his fine performance in
"Braveheart". This movie is Mel Gibson.
He's reluctant to fight because of what he did as a younger man, in the
French and Indian War some 15 to 20 years previous. Though he's tormented by
his vicious deeds during that violent period, he came out a hero to other
men, who continue to "buy him drinks" when they have the chance. We don't
witness such moments but, once he "gets over it" and joins the battle, the
action part of the movie takes off. His obvious leadership makes all the
difference to the men of the community who must join the fight that affects
them and their families so personally. This was a fight amidst the homes and
farms of the cities and countryside.
In this neighbor to neighbor struggle, with the British bent on preventing
rebel independence in the America of 1776, staging great field battles that
have the rebel forces greatly outnumbered and out-armed, Martin begins a
campaign of quick, devastating raids on British supply lines and units -- the
classic offense against a superior force (Chechens against Russia?). Never
having seen such strategy before, the British call him the "ghost" because of
the way he and his men appear, destroy, and fade into the brush. But the true
identity of this ghost is eventually disclosed by an ex-neighbor fighting
with the redcoats.
Martin's eldest son, Gabriel, (Heath Ledger) who preceded his father into
battle, becomes one of his lieutenants alongside Tcheky Karyo in a nice
performance as Jean Villeneuve, the French officer promising that his country
will indeed show up to help them fight the British.
The villains are rendered with the simplistic brush of caricature in the form
of Colonel Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), who actually led his regiment into
South Carolina and was far more brutal than this effete and elitist portrayal
would have us believe. And, while he had a protege in 2nd lieutenant
Tarleton, "The Patriot" creates for us the far more sinister and evil Colonel
Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a fictional character contrived as a much more
ideal (hissable) movie villain. The Revolutionary War is personified in the
revenge story between the heroic and virtuous Martin and this sadistic
Another departure from historical accuracy is the role blacks had in the
Revolutionary War. Despite their ready acceptance by both sides in the
movie, they did not serve as fighting men in South Carolina army units,
although they did in the navy.
Despite historical inaccuracies, "The Patriot" serves to remind us of our
history and of the brutalities out of which a nation was born and shaped.
Americans never could accept being subjects. That's why they landed here and
built the land we call home. It's become so comfortable and free of tyrants
that we tend to disregard the origins of the journey. It takes entertainment
like this to put the subject in our path and, perhaps, inspire some gratitude
for what got us started.
At 2 hours and 38 minutes, the story might have been better realized with a
trim of 20 to 30 minutes, though afficionados of this kind of movie and of
Mel Gibson, might well argue for the extra time on the basis of the epic
scale of the story.
Chris Cooper pulls off his trademark naturalness as Colonel Harry Burwell,
Martin's battlefield superior, and Joely Richardson devotedly plays the
adoring and dutiful Charlotte Selton, sister of Martin's dead wife. Roland
Emmerich directed; Robert Rodat ("Saving Private Ryan") devised the
screenplay which does its work without obvious digital "effects", sex or
Estimated cost: $110,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $115,000,000.
Rated S, for Service to country.
~~ Jules Brenner