In the American Revolutionary War, even a boy's toy soldiers had a part
to play. When Benjamin Martin's son is murdered by a British soldier,
Ben uses his son's metal soldiers as material for bullets to avenge his
THE PATRIOT by Roland Emmerich (INDEPENDENCE DAY) is a stirring and
unapologetically patriotic film. Rather than trying to tell the whole
story of the war, it concentrates on one man's struggle and on the role
of the militia. Within this limited scope, it succeeds handsomely. Its
only shortcoming is that the final cut includes too much fluff and minor
romances. At a half-hour shorter, its impact would have been
When we first meet Ben (Mel Gibson), a widower with 7 children and a
veteran of the French and Indian Wars, he wants no part in the
revolution that's brewing all about him. A South Carolina farmer in
1776, he's called to the assembly to vote on a resolution for their
state to join in the struggle.
Ben argues convincingly against South Carolina's participation in the
conflict. "An elected legislature can trample a man's rights as quickly
as a king can," he points out. When it becomes clear that the vote will
go against him, one of his friends asks about his principles. "I'm a
parent," Ben reminds him. "I haven't got the luxury of principles."
Mel Gibson delivers an understated but strong performance, bringing
humanity to a role that could easily dissolve into caricature. With his
convincing expressions of grief and dedication, we empathize with his
plight. In contrast, another of this summer's would-be action heroes,
George Clooney (THE PERFECT STORM), was so wooden in his delivery that
we didn't care what happened to his character.
After Ben's second son, Thomas (Gregory Smith), is shot in the back by
the story's chief villain, an eminently hissable Col. William Tavington
(Jason Isaacs), Ben enlists in the cause and fights along side his
eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger from 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU).
Coming to be known as "The Ghost," Ben leads a rag-tag band of militia
in skirmishes with the British that don't follow the gentlemanly rules
of engagement. Back then wars were extremely organized slaughter. Each
side formed neat lines like two kindergarten classes on their way to
recess. When the respective lines met, each side stood upright and
proud, while shooting and being shot at. In contrast the militia snuck
around in the swamps and hid behind trees, which wasn't the way true
gentlemen were supposed to play the game of war.
Meanwhile, back at the front, the regular Continental army finds the
large and well-trained British about to win the war. "These rustics are
so inept, it nearly takes the honor out of victory," say the pompous and
supremely confident leader of the British troops, General Cornwallis
(Tom Wilkinson from THE FULL MONTY). "Nearly," he adds cockily.
Much of the action concerns the atrocities committed by a British
colonel and his men against our civilians, including women and children.
The most horrific of these is the torching of a locked church full of
non-combatants. There is also a scene in which our side commits some
atrocities in retribution.
The film includes many a rousing scene as when Ben picks up Old Glory to
rejuvenate soldiers on the verge of retreat. The music by John Williams
(STAR WARS) is strong and effective but never overwhelming.
The movie whets our appetite for more movies about the Revolutionary
War. It is, arguably, the most important time in our country's history
but, sadly, one of the most ignored by filmmakers. Maybe, just maybe,
this picture will inspire the creation of many others about this period.
One can hope.
THE PATRIOT runs 2:44. It is rated R for strong war violence and would
be fine for teenagers. Given the low test scores of our teenagers on
American history, they should all see this movie. Besides teaching
them, it might encourage them to learn more about this era.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes