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Patriot, The (2000) Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2007

Image Why does Mel Gibson get to play iconic heroes in the movies? Because when he’s on he can knock the ball out of the park, that’s why. Gibson delivers the goods again in the Revolutionary War-action flick, “The Patriot.” He plays Benjamin Martin, a farmer in South Carolina, who has seven kids. That’s because that’s how many Gibson had in real life himself at the time.

Benjamin was a veteran of the French and Indian War, as it was called in America. The British called it King George’s War, for King George III. Those seven years, from 1756 to 1763, involved some of the bloodiest hand-to-hand combat in the world at that time. It was during this war that the American soldiers learned to fight from cover and use the Europeans’ style of fighting in the open in sheer numbers against them.

Despite his oldest son’s desires, Benjamin keeps them all out of the Revolutionary war. He won’t side with the emerging United States or with Britain--he simply wants to raise his family in peace. Unfortunately, war has a habit of picking sides for men who won’t commit but who end up in the eye of the storm despite their best efforts.

The British arrive at Benjamin’s farm one day and his life changes forever. Gabriel (Benjamin’s oldest son, played by Heath Ledger) joins the Colonial forces against his father’s wishes and gets wounded carrying dispatches. A British unit under Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) follows Gabriel home.

Isaacs is great as Tavington. I had an immediate reaction to him as soon as he appeared--I hated him from the moment I laid eyes on him. It takes a skilled actor to generate that much feeling in so short a time. Tavington gives orders to take Gabriel prisoner. Benjamin’s second son, Thomas (Joey D. Vieira), attempts to free Gabriel and is shot down by Tavington’s men.

Gibson really sells the scene where Benjamin holds his dying son. You can feel the anguish and confusion inside him, then feel it again when it changes into a righteous anger that only blood will sate. I don’t know if it was Gibson’s acting ability or Isaacs’s, or the fact that seeing a child shot down, that triggered my feelings the most. I do know that the scene in the woods when Benjamin and two more of his sons trail the British and ambush them is fantastic. It features some of the best imagery in the movie, and the HD presentation renders it beautifully. There are other scenes later, during some of the battlefield sequences or during some of the long treks through the woods and small villages that are amazing, but the sheer ferocity of Benjamin’s attack with tomahawks up close and personal is absolutely mind-blowing, and it’s even more so in HD.

After this wonderful beginning, the movie starts branching out. The overall effect is weakened by the Hollywood love story interjected between Gabriel and Anne (Lisa Brenner), especially when it ends in tragedy without any real chance to come to fruition. Still, it was probably necessary for the younger crowd to give them someone to root for.

The feel of the battle campaigns is amazing. With the HD presentation, you feel like you’re there. The forest takes on a fantastic texture and shows how menacing it can be. (And it also reminded me how Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans” would probably look if given an HD format.)

Leon Rippy (“Deadwood”, “Saving Grace”) is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. It was a pleasure to see him here in all his rough-hewn glory. He was made for films like this.

Benjamin’s war continues, and the viewers are treated to several truths about the different ways the British and the Americans fought, and what they fought for. In a way it gets a little comic-booky at time, but it just looks and sounds so good that you just don’t care.

One of the best parts in the whole film is when Benjamin sits down to talk about the actual events that happened at Fort Wayne. The brutality and cold-bloodedness of the American fighters are described by him, and the mood over the campfire is almost as though a ghost story is being told. The effect is chilling and Gibson pulls the effort off as if it were nothing.

The special features on the disc are pretty good. Some of the interviews are fun and informative, and Gibson is always fun to listen to because the man definitely has an opinion about things. That’s gotten him into trouble on occasion, but it makes him a better actor.

Historians who watch the film aren’t going to be as pleased as much as those who show up to watch Gibson kick butt and ride off into the sunset with the American flag snapping in the wind overhead. But that’s all right--this isn’t a film for historians. It’s for people who want a night of escapism mixed with just enough history to make everything seem even more real.

I’d recommend the film for family night, with the warning about violence and blood, and I’d even throw in mention that this isn’t history as it was. The opening sequence involving the ambush is still one of my best action sequences in any film.

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