Movie Review: "The Patriot"--ReFocus

6/07/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review: Refocus

"The Patriot"

By our guest blogger, John Shannon

Editor's note: With new movies coming out every Friday, new DVDs every Tuesday, and nearly a hundred years worth of film history to draw from, it’s easy for some titles to get lost in the shuffle. “ReFocus” is a weekly column detailing a film that for one reason or another deserves revisiting. Whether it’s simply providing further context or taking a second look at a misplaced classic, we’re here to continue the conversation and give films their proper view.

This week…

"The Patriot"

In the spirit of the just passed Memorial Day, we have the 2000 film “The Patriot.” Written by Robert Rodat (who penned “Saving Private Ryan”) and directed by Roland Emmerich (director of “Independence Day,” and then nothing else particularly good), “The Patriot” stars Mel Gibson as Ben Martin, a South Carolina plantation owner who served in the French and Indian War.

Having lived through the horrors of one war, Ben will do whatever he can to ensure that his seven (!) children, particularly the eldest, Gabriel (the late Heath Ledger) and Thomas (Everwood's Gregory Smith), do not have to see such atrocities. But unfortunately for him, the American colonies have just declared war on Britain for taxation without representation, and Gabriel enlists against his father's permission. Soon the war comes uncomfortably close to home, and tragedy occurs. British forces burn his plantation to the ground, imprison his workers and when Thomas gets uppity, the British Colonel Tavington (played with relish by Jason Issacs) promptly executes him. Enraged, Ben opens his war chest and takes out his signature hatchet and arms his two young sons, who can't be older then 10 or 12, telling his other three kids to hide in the fields until his return.

What follows is a raging bloodbath, with Ben and his sons ambushing the British brigade in the woods. Ben uses his skills in guerrilla warfare to kill all but one of the soldiers, leaving the one terrified recruit to tell of a "Ghost," a fearsome warrior out for redcoat blood. Meanwhile, Benjamin gets his children to safety at his sister-in-law's plantation, and rounds up a militia to fight where the American Army can't. All the while, Tavington seeks vengeance for his fallen brigade.

Essentially, “The Patriot” is an all-out, balls-to-the-wall action and revenge flick set against the backdrop of America's birth. “The Patriot” wears it's R rating proudly, with blood being spilled, churches being burned, children being executed and cannon balls taking off people's heads. And none of it is presented in a cartoony, overdone way. While it's not historically accurate, it's insanely realistic and entertaining.

That said, let's say it again: “The Patriot” is not a historically accurate picture. Anyone looking to write a paper on the Revolutionary War should not look to this film for guidance. They should see it for sheer entertainment value, though. The filmmakers play fast and loose with the history, but not as fast and as loose as “Inglorious Basterds.” Benjamin Martin is a composite of several men, and Tavington was a real guy, nicknamed "The Butcher," more so for being skilled in combat and less for shooting innocent kids in the back. Oh, and the battle at the end of the movie, where American forces triumph? Well, in real life, we lost that one. But honestly, as you watch the movie, you aren't looking for historical accuracy or anything like that. You're just seeking to be entertained. Looking for historical accuracy in “The Patriot” is probably as sensible as looking for it in “The Da Vinci Code.” The fact that it isn't accurate doesn't make the movie any less entertaining.

A real strength the picture has is its ability to continually raise the stakes. Not only do we get to know Ben and his family, but we also learn about his community, his militiamen and his enemies. The script does a remarkable job of balancing all these characters, giving us enough to see them as more then one-dimensional stereotypes or caricatures, but also not overloading us. While we care about everyone involved, we care most for the Martin family. But this isn't a toothless endeavor where faceless soldiers are killed while the main characters live. Characters often die--some we were just starting to warm up to, others after we've come to love them.

Mel Gibson is at his best here. He's gotten a lot of flack over the past few years for drunk driving and some anti-Semitic comments, but honestly, to me, he's in the same camp as Tom Cruise: I could care less about his personal issues as long as he gives a good performance. And they usually do. Gibson's great as the haunted hero, the guy who tries to repress the warrior within to try and lead a normal life. He holds off on letting his family know what he did and what he faced as long as he can, but once he releases it, it is out. The scene where he and his young sons ambush a brigade is my personal favorite in the movie. Not because of its suspenseful editing, or the courage at hand in depicting 10-year-old children shooting and killing grown men, but because it's a real character moment, where the warrior that been pent up inside of Benjamin for so long finally is unleashed. And it's as if the warrior never left. For Ben, killing is like riding a bike. You never forget. His skill in shooting and hand-to-hand combat is incredible.

Jason Issacs plays Tavington as more than an evil man. He plays him as a proud man, a warrior, frustrated with the hierarchy of the armed forces, looking to do more and be recognized, not just by king and country, but also by history. He wants his name to be known, and he wants to profit from it. Issacs always is great as a villain, and anyone who enjoys his work as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films should check this one out immediately.

The director, Roland Emmerich, is a curious talent. After the reasonably entertaining “Independence Day,” he directed the god awful American version of “Godzilla.” This was designed as his comeback picture, and it worked well for him. But after creating blissfully nonsensical fare such as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “10,000 BC,” I can only assume that this movie is a fluke. Tons of talent and promise on display, and then nothing to show for it in future work. It's a bit of a shame. His direction, cinematography and editing chops are in excellent form here. He certainly knows how to build a sequence, and with this picture’s near three-hour running time, he maintains momentum incredibly well.

So, if you’re in the mood for a war picture with some gritty realism and intense emotional pay off, I can safely point to “The Patriot.” It’s a well-crafted, exciting ride, with an exceptional cast, some great sequences and an interesting story, regardless of whether it's true.

What do you think? Half the fun is getting in on the conversation, so sound off in the comments below. Whether you agree or disagree your opinion is welcome, and we’d love to hear it.

John Shannon can be reached at

Next week on ReFocus: “Dogma”

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