Mad Max goes back in time, William Wallace becomes Benjamin Martin, and Roland
Emmerich abandons futuristic disasters for the 'glorious' past: The Patriot
couldn't be more of a compromise - although, at first, I didn't really mind
the last one. This movie sticks to the current trend of packaging history with
contemporary language and attitude thrown in. The fact that it becomes a lot
more easy to relate to is negated by a tortuously simplistic depiction of the
American war of independence.
Martin is a self-sufficient farmer in South Carolina. Haunted by a gruesome
yet famous past, the only ambition left in his life, apart from bringing up
his seven children, appears to be making chairs that don't break. With a son
Gabriel (Heath Ledger), already fighting in the Continental Army, Martin is
inexorably drawn towards his Achilles' Heel - the war. The death of his son,
at the hands of Col William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), provides him with the
excuse to take up cudgels against the Red Coats.
His first act has twenty soldiers dead, with not a clue about the perpetrator.
With an army of peasants and the support of the militia, Martin declares war
on the British. Being the hero that he is, he revives the fortunes of the freedom
fighters. Amidst all the blood bath, father and son find time to reunite with
their family back home, and their friends in Charles Town. Needless to say,
the peasants 'with pitch-forks' upstage General Cornwallis' (Tom Wilkinson)
plans to move North to complete the British conquest.
Some tongue-in-cheek humor notwithstanding, the proceedings are, by and large,
insipid. But more exasperating than anything else is the black and white portrayal
of the two armies. The British are cold-hearted, while the Americans, for all
their moral ambiguity, are fighting for a just cause.
The movie is more about the equations between Martin and Tavington than about
any significant chapter of the war. And to think that the script has been written
by the same man who is credited with the story of Saving Private Ryan!
You can no more go by reputations. I guess the director makes the difference,
and Roland Emmerich is nothing more than another one of those MTV generation
whizkids who likes to give shape to his most pedestrian fantasies.
Mel Gibson, having struck gold with the same theme in Braveheart, seems
to have run out of energy. Looking considerably old, he looks more of a reluctant
actor than a reluctant warrior. For all his thoughtful inputs (the moral dilemma
of Martin is reported to have been conceived by him), his character is as shallow
as they come. In case you like his outfit rather than his savagery, I suggest
you check out his Maverick. It's bound to be more worth your while.