The Patriot (2000) / Action-War
MPAA Rated: R for strong war violence
Running Time: 165 min. (extended version runs 10 minutes longer)
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Robert Rodat
Review published June 29, 2000
Can Robert Rodat, the writer of Saving Private Ryan, do for the Revolutionary War what he did for WWII? The answer is: not with Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, Independence Day) at the helm. Emmerich, of course, is the big budget director whose only real talent is to find every tired Hollywood movie cliche and litter them liberally throughout every scene of his movies. The German-born director just comes off of his worst movie (and that's saying quite a bit) Godzilla, and with a budget of $80 million and a big-star talent, he goes into the non-special effects territory of 1776.
This tells the fictional tale of Benjamin Martin (Gibson, Chicken Run), a former war hero with a sordid past who is reluctant to take up the cause of his brethren in fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. Events force his hand when some Redcoats, under the sadistic leadership of Colonel Tavington (Isaacs, The End of the Affair), kill one of his young boys and threatens to hang his eldest...and they destroy his farm and home. Needless to say, he takes matters into his own hands, starting his own rogue militia, who proceed to be a thorn in the side of British general Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson, Rush Hour), who is accustomed to playing by his own book.
I suppose the historical accuracy of our country's events would take a backseat to movie theatrics with a German director and a lead cast of Aussies and Brits leading the way. There are only two saving graces to the film: Mel Gibson's fine performance (considering what little he had to work with) and gorgeous costumes. However, even the attention to sets and costumes proves a double-edged sword as everyone is just too well-groomed and impressive looking for the entire film, with such inanities as Joely Richardson (Maybe Baby, Return to Me) in full-blown accoutrement when sleeping and an ensemble of slaves as debonair as the cast of the Cotton Club.
Even this could be overlooked had the film not succumbed to the usual Emmerich ploy of raping every other film in its genre. If you were to break The Patriot down, the first hour is The Outlaw Josey Wales, the next hour is The Postman (Costner's) and the final hour is Gibson's own Braveheart. Toss in a hokey romance, a bunch of preposterous attempts at humor, and fight scenes staged so slow that even Sam Peckinpah would fall asleep, and you get the bloated and derivative flick that at three hours outstays its welcome by two.
If Emmerich wanted to rip off styles, he should have done so with Rodat's Saving Private Ryan as directed by Steven Spielberg instead of copying every other film Hollywood churns out of the factory. Of course, that would require talent and vision, and when it comes to the team of Emmerich and Devlin, it may prove too much to hope for. Lots of lavish production splashed across the screen, but The Patriot is one film that's far from Revolutionary.
©2000 Vince Leo