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Starring: Mel Gibson
Director: Roland Emmerich
Running Time: 164 Minutes
Rating: Rated R for strong war violence.
Video Release: October 2000
This Mel Gibson historical epic is the latest creation from the producer/director team responsible for bringing us Stargate, ID 4, and Godzilla. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich have teamed up with writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) to produce a crowd-pleasing, action drama that would have faired much better if it wasn't shown through the rose tinted glasses of Hollywood.
We open in colonial South Carolina where we are introduced to Benjamin Martin (Gibson) who, despite being mortally haunted by the loss of his wife, puts on a face of normalcy for his seven children. He prides himself as a simple farmer and father, despite his checkered past as a hero of the French and Indian War. Tensions are high between colonists and the motherland but Martin refuses to take part in the developing conflict between the Colonial Army and the British Redcoats. This puts him at odds with his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), who disobeys him and joins the army to fight the British.
Two years later, British troops descend upon Martin's plantation where a wounded Gabriel has taken refuge. The sinister British Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), discovers the "spy" and orders him hanged and the estate burned. One of Martin's children (Gregory Smith) attempts to stop Tavington and is viciously slain in front of the family.
After avenging his child's murder and rescuing Gabriel from imminent death, Martin joins up with the Colonial Army and forms a rag-tag crew of militia that start a campaign of sneak attacks on the Brits. The final conflict ends in a pivotal battle of American militia and army against the overwhelming Redcoats in which Martin and Tavington square off.
Now, "Saving Pvt. Gabriel" ...sorry, The Patriot has its pluses and minuses. The minuses are its historical inaccuracies ... though, in creating a Hollywood drama, there are certain liberties one must take to make the product more visual and thought engaging. The taking of Charleston (for example) occurred in 1780; not 1778. The only productions that are cut-and-dry, when it comes to being historically correct, are documentaries (at least they attempt to be). So, unless you're a historian or have studied the American Revolution extensively, many of the inaccuracies shouldn't be a bother.
The major historical blunder is the black/white issue. Hollywood has a tendency to homogenize their productions and in The Patriot we see an almost politically correct society where the slave population amicably co-exists with their white brothers and sisters. While we (today) might be "PC sensitive" to this issue, film is a historical document. 500 years from now (if a copy of this film should exist) those who view it might have a very skewed look at slavery in 1776 South Carolina.
The positive side of this film is it explores the very essence of what it means to be an American. Today, many see the "Stars and Stripes" as a hip design for a CD jacket or something that is burned in a far off desert land. Back in 1776, the "red, white, and blue" meant something far greater and the mere presence of it stirred a fervor in all colonists (both positive and negative). This is by far the greatest reason to see The Patriot. While it features some interesting CG effects with a cannon ball, the film serves us best in helping understand what it means to be part of this nation.
One of the more powerful scenes is at the Martin plantation one evening. The growing thunder of British cannons awakens the household, as all eyes stare out across their front yard. Colonial forces pour from the tree line, into the open field, and are mowed down by the pursuing Redcoats. No, we're not watching CNN. We are spectators to the destructive powers of warfare as a foreign nation invades and does battle on our very soil. Hopefully, we may never witness such an event but if it were to happen, we might then better comprehend the sacrifices of those who lived and died, building this nation, over 200 years ago.
Give the The Patriot a "4." Try to ignore the studio-manufactured propaganda here and focus deeper on what it meant to be ... part of a revolution.
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).