Sunday, March 15, 2015
(June 2000, U.S.)
From one war film right to another! From the action of World War I in Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY right back in time to the action of the American Revolutionary War in THE PATRIOT. Ain't life a funny coincidence?
By the time the 21st Century began, director Roland Emmerich had well established himself as a true leader in the divine art of massive destruction with INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and his own (unfortunate) take on GODZILLA (1998). His name would have been the last I'd expect to see attached to a historical epic film on the American Revolutionary War. But then again, I suppose even the best (or worst) of Hollywood's directorial products have their own personal passions about what they'd like to bring to the big screen. I suppose when one really thinks about it, war, no matter how glorified it's been depicted in history books or in fiction, is still a source of pure violence and destruction, even when both sides may look particularly well-dressed in blue coats and red coats. Further more, add the violent likes of someone like Mel Gibson into the mix, and I suppose a historical war film made by Roland Emmerich makes perfect sense, right?
The film primarily takes place in rural York County, South Carolina beginning in the year 1776 and tells the story of an American veteran of the French and Indian War and father of seven Benjamin Martin (Gibson) who is reluctantly swept into the Revolutionary War when his family is threatened and his son is mercilessly killed by the vicious and ruthless English Colonel William Tavington (played by Jason Isaacs). This is where traditional action and motives of personal revenge in a style that made Mel Gibson so infamous come into play, even as part of a historical American tale. Forget everything you may have seen as a kid in paintings of George Washington and any other images of the Revolutionary War because at this point, there will be blood and the heads of the English will roll! Even after Benjamin Martin has almost single-handedly taken out the men who initially murdered his young son, the man with the mission is still not finished. Now our hero has joined the cause and commitment of the American freedom fighters and heads will continue to roll. Yet despite the action, blood, violence and revenge that any film with Mel Gibson can bring to us, it's still worthy to note and remember that this is a period piece that manages to carry itself out with an admirable sense of style and authenticity, both in historical setting and costume design. It's also worthy to remember that despite Mel Gibson infamous screen reputation, he is an actor that can surprise us if the right role comes his way (think HAMLET 1990!).
And so, if we recall our elementary school history lessons well enough, we already know the outcome of the Revolutionary War and how our American freedom was finally attained. Admittedly, it's a piece of war history I haven't seen too much on screen for myself. Fact is, Stanley Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON (1975) is the only other film of this sort I own in my collection and I've never seen the musical film 1776 (1972). So for someone like myself who war film collection mostly consists of World War II and Vietnam, it's a rather refreshing change of pace to experience an epic of this part of our American history (because Heaven know I was bored to tears trying to keep up with the subject in elementary school!). Clearly this is a film that relies heavily on the textbook formula of hand-to-hand combat action and melodrama, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining and fun to watch. Gibson is solid as a man trying to overcome his violent past while still finding it necessary to revisit those emotions and actions in order to protect his family during a time of war and revolution. Interestingly, THE PATRIOT reminds us of what the so-called "gentlemanly" rules of war were during this time in which both American and British soldiers were expected to stand still in a line while the enemy took shots at them and they simply had to wait and see who would fall to their bloody death. Frankly, if that's what was considered being a "gentleman", then I'd prefer straightforward stupidity!
As with any film that depicts war on screen, historical accuracy is always a controversial issue. What did happen? What didn't happen? How faithful is a fictional character to the man he's ultimately based on? Poor Oliver Stone had to endure a shitload of that crap and it didn't make JFK (1991) any less of a phenomenal hit. We don't THE PATRIOT for an accurate history lesson (that's what books and the History Channel are for!), but rather the for the violent fun and emotional drama and sorrow that any traditional war film brings us, particularly during a summer blockbuster season that brought us sequels to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Benjamin Martin: "Why? Why do men feel they can justify death? Is it arrogance or...? I have long feared, that my sins would return to visit me...and the cost is more then I can bear."