The Patriot


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Patriot
"The film is simplistic to the point of absurdity."

Everything looks lovely. South Carolina in 1776 appears as Paradise, in which the slave nation and the white nation live in harmony, youngsters shampoo their locks every night and are never seen in grubby clothes, candle wax doesn't drip over the furniture and the land positively blushes with abundance.

Ben Martin (Mel Gibson) has seven children, a farm to run, rocking chairs to make, a dead wife in the cemetery and one black slave, who, naturally, is treated as family. The house is spotless, the linen pristine and the table manners exemplary.

Copy picture

This is not the story of how to be a single parent and still keep the silver polished. It is about the American War of Independence, as seen through the rose-tinted lenses of Hollywood.

The Redcoats (English) are pompous, ruthless and efficient, while the Southern Militia is a rag tag guerrilla force, made up of country folk and a lone Frenchman (Tcheky Karyo).

Martin has known war before, from his early years in the army, where he had the reputation as a brave, ferocious fighter, particularly adept with the tomahawk. Now he wants none of it. As for a rebellion against King George, he thinks it dangerous nonsense. "Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?" he asks.

When a certain Col Tavington (Jason Isaacs) perpetuates war crimes on his family and property, that does it. He takes two of the younger boys into the woods, ambushes a column of Redcoats and wipes them out.

The film is simplistic to the point of absurdity. Tavington behaves with the rational of a psychotic African bush rebel and makes Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List look like a gentleman. Sooner or later - in this case, later - he and Martin will have a showdown. High Noon it ain't.

When not painting history black-and-white, director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) and writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) are piling on the sentiment. Martin's children provide lucrative source material for this, not forgetting Aunt Charlotte (Joely Richardson), his elegant widowed sister-in-law, who has nothing to do but be there when required.

Possibly aimed at a God-fearing mid-western small town audience, The Patriot has a high sugar content, while battle scenes are fashionably bloody, with limbs and clichés flying about.

Only Tom Wilkinson, as the titled English commander-in-chief, gives a performance. The teenagers, Heath Ledger and Lisa Brenner, are sweet as candy, pink cheeked and sensible. Gibson manages to personify all the roles he has ever played, as if Mad Max, William Wallace, Hamlet and Martin Riggs are part of Benjamin Martin's heritage. He doesn't act so much as entertain.

When carrying the flag to the top of the hill in the final conflict, he must have asked himself, which is more likely to enflame nationalistic fervour, this star-spangled moment or crying "Freedom!" for Scotland in another historical travesty?

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The Patriot packshot
A farmer takes on the Redcoats in an act of revenge.
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Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Robert Rodat

Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, Tchéky Karyo, Rene Auberjonois, Lisa Brenner, Tom Wilkinson, Donal Logue, Leon Rippy

Year: 2000

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany


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