Americana Movie Month: "The Patriot" Review

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Peaceful farmer Benjamin Martin is driven to lead the Colonial Militia during the American Revolution when a sadistic British officer murders his son. Starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
3.5

Americana Movie Month: "The Patriot" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 165 minutes
Release Date: June 28, 2000
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Genre: Action/Drama/War

When Roland Emmerich accepted the responsibility of directing a movie about a group of militia members and their role in the American Revolutionary War, he created a film that pitted good against evil in the battle for freedom. The film focuses on the fictional story of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a warrior who gained his battle experience by fighting in the French and Indian War. Martin is not proud of his violent experiences and wants nothing to do with battle and bloodshed.

Benjamin is haunted by the violent images that plague his memory, but he must remain strong, as his wife passed away and left him in charge of seven children. The oldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), desperately wants to fight against the British by joining the Continental Army, but his father refuses to give him permission. When Benjamin leaves town, Gabriel joins the Continental Army behind his back.

Two years later, the Continental Army and British troops face off outside the Martin plantation. The following day, Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) of the British Army captures Gabriel and sentences him to death for being a spy. Thomas Martin (Gregory Smith), Benjamin's second-oldest son, attempts to set his brother free. However, he is unable to do so, and Colonel Tavington shoots and kills him.

Filled with grief over his son's death, Benjamin looks for a way to beat the soldiers who took Gabriel captive. Motivated by a desire for revenge, he kills every soldier in the troop with the exception of Colonel Tavington. Benjamin and Gabriel are then tasked with creating a militia to prevent General Lord Charles Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) from defeating General George Washington.

Martin creates a strong militia, but it is not enough to prevent Gabriel from being killed by Tavington when he attempts to get revenge for the death of his young wife. Having lost two sons, Benjamin decides to fight one last battle against the British. During this battle, the British troops are forced to retreat as Benjamin exacts his revenge on Tavington, killing him in the process.

"The Patriot" is not based on events that took place during the American Revolution. However, the set and costume designers paid close attention to detail when choosing period pieces. With few exceptions, the clothing and weapons used in the film have the look of authentic pieces from the 1700s. On the surface, "The Patriot" may seem like just another action-packed battle film, but Emmerich's decisions set this movie apart from other films in the genre. The decision to focus on ordinary citizens rather than the most affluent members of society makes it easier to understand Benjamin's motivations and makes the film more relatable to a greater number of viewers.

Heath Ledger does an excellent job of showcasing Gabriel's progression from being an immature idealist to being a vengeful widower. When Gabriel and Benjamin join forces, it is easy to understand that they are just two characters in a film and not a father-and-son team waging a war against evil. Mel Gibson also does an admirable job of playing a guilt-ridden man who is constantly fighting his own demons. Gibson's past work in "Braveheart" truly prepared him to assume the role of a grieving father who must fight a diabolical British colonel to avenge the death of his son. This role is quite a departure from Gibson's roles in more lighthearted films such as "What Women Want" and "Chicken Run."

While the historical accuracy of the sets and costumes was nearly perfect, the dialog was not. Viewers will notice that Benjamin and other characters use words and phrases that would have been out of place in the eighteenth century. Despite these anachronisms, "The Patriot" successfully explores what it means to love one's country and take personal risks to ensure the success of a nation. Because Emmerich chose to give ample screen time to grisly battle scenes, it may be difficult for some viewers to believe that Benjamin really wants nothing to do with the war. Although Emmerich made some inspired choices, the dialog is reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan," another of Robert Rodat's projects.

"The Patriot" grossed more than $113 million in the United States and nearly $102 million in foreign countries. Although the film was nominated for sound, cinematography, and original score awards, it was not even considered for the Best Picture Award at the 2001 Oscars. However, it did win several guild awards, most notably the awards Best Period Hairstyling and Best Period Makeup conferred by the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hairstylist Guild. Mel Gibson also won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actor for his work in this film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5