The Patriot review

:. Director: Roland Emmerich
:. Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger
:. Running Time: 2:55
:. Year: 2000
:. Country: USA

Braveheart meets Independance Day in The Patriot, a time piece about the American Revolution; not only is this epic directed by Roland Emmerich (ID4, Godzilla), it features Mel Gibson. Unfortunately, Roland Emmerich isn't Mel Gibson and Mel Gibson isn't Godzilla: his rage and his big shoulders aren't enough to support a movie burdened with such a melodramamtic plot.

Mel Gibson plays a former war hero, a widower who simply seeks peace and focuses on raising his large family. But the cruelty of a British officer against his family forces him to go back to war by building his militia.

While war movies have accustomed us to conventional plots, The Patriot's premise looks like a transposition of Braveheart's medieval era to the American Revolution. That's what the movie is: an attempt to recapture the Scottish epic's success while luring the US box office by playing the patriotic card. This is too bad for Roland Emmerich because he had a chance with an interesting period piece to gain more credibility—something his aliens and monsters never brought him.

Unfortunately the project was destined to failure from the beginning since the script is overburdened by what might have been an appealing setting. The plot is indeed so melodramatic and twisted that it makes any soap opera pass for the most minimalist Dogma flick. While the first murder was enough to justify Gibson's engagement to war and his motivation for revenge, the story keeps adding more affliction on to Gibson throughout the movie like an unending tv show. If that weren't enough, the story unfolds with so many clichés that it's hard to believe the script wasn't structured like a compilation of films of the same genre in order to offer the spectator all of the ingredients he will like. The fact that all the expected thrills and emotions are provided makes it clear that The Patriot has been built as a marketing vehicule to conquer the box office. And there is no doubt it will succeed. The importance given to children (they even get to kill the bad guys—come on!) as well as women and minorities (including an unconvincing subplot about racial equality haphazardly added in just in time for the 4th of July) emphasizes the demagogy of the script. The movie wants be federalist in order to attract the whole family in the theater. If the film abounds in cheap cliché-driven symbols, its ultimate allegory—the use of the American flag as a weapon— is without a doubt so undigestable that it definitely ruins it. We are not far from ID4's patriotism with the American president saving the world.

Emmerich has a sure sense of action and the battle scenes are depicted with a certain realism and violence that undoubtedly make them enjoyable and the high points of the film. However, the level of violence—sometimes gore—and the scrupulous alignments of soldiers on the battlefield can't help but be reminiscent of Braveheart's famous battle scenes. One also notices the first fight where Gibson kills a few dozen of soldiers with his Indian hatchet, just like in the opening battle of Michael Mann's The Last Of The Mohicans set around the same time. Another dose of realism is brought to settings and costumes that are shown with a certain beauty and affection by Emmerich's camera. The characters are certainly lovable, and the acting is more than respectable for a blockbuster of that type. Gibson's character is particularly interesting—a hero with a dark side in the tradition of Clint Eastwood's anti-heros (see Unforgiven). The actor gives his role a human dimension more realistic that the usual on-screen tough heros. French actor Tcheky Kario (The Messenger) brings the French twist and panache with success.

The film is therefore a succession of highs and lows. Each time you might give it a chance, the next sequence comes ruining it. Because of all its attempts to seduce the audience, the film fails. And this failure further emphasizes the contrast between this kind of product and quality Hollywood productions like Braveheart and Gladiator made with some heart.

The Patriot is a shiny package for an empty box.

  Fred Thom

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