The Patriot


Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by:Robert Rodat
Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Issacs
Released: July 20, 2000
Grade: C

The Revolutionary War stretched from 1775 through to 1783 as the American continent fought Great Britain for possession of thirteen colonies bordering the Atlantic Ocean.  Over 25,000 Americans and 10,000 British were killed over eight years.  On July 4, 1776, a Continental Congress was formed from delegates of each State, a Declaration of Independence was drafted and George Washington was named Chief of the Continental Army. 

The Patriot is a fictitious tale set against this war.  Benjamin Martin (Gibson) is a war hero from the past who now lives quietly with his seven children in South Carolina.  As the English troops (known as the redcoats) approach, Ben will not waiver from his principals - he refuses to return to battle and believes the war can still be won with words.

Ben’s eldest son, Gabriel (Ledger), is now 17 and against strong wishes from his father enlists and heads off into engagement.  As the English continue to advance under the “gentlemanly” command of General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), hundreds of Americans are sacrificed and the situation worsens.

The redcoats soon reach Ben’s home where in a confrontation with Colonel William Tavington (Jason Issacs), his 15-year-old son Thomas (Gregory Smith) is killed.  In true cinematic fashion, Ben finds his passion for war reignited and assembles a militia army to seek revenge on the English and particularly, Colonel Tavington.  As he says, “I will kill you before this war is over”.

Film is a powerful medium that is not deserving of The Patriot.  It has all the plot and dialogue traits from the tiring action garbage we’ve witnessed recently in films such as Armageddon and Gone In 60 Seconds.  The fact it deals with a real war is irrelevant.  It is insulting to watch a film that shows such reckless regard for the truth.

The portrayal of both the African-Americans and French is disgraceful.  A token character is represented from each of these races and are included in the film to glorify and show just how perfect white-Americans were.  Throw in a souvenir love story between Heath Ledger and Lisa Brenner to please the romantics and a few funny characters (all with their moment of glory) and you’re looking at a film that has little to do with patriotism.

It is overwhelmingly frustrating viewing experience.  Everything is so contrived and predictable.  Colonel Tavington is so over-the-top evil that he exhibits qualities resembling that of a James Bond villain.  Gabriel is the perfect son who always seems to avoid the perils of war until the incident that you know is coming.  Some moments are senselessly violent and seem completely out of place.  Amazingly, director Roland Emmerich has created a film that requires no thought whatsoever.  The Americans are portrayed as the “good guys”, the British are the “bad guys” and any grey area is non-existent.  In the packed cinema in which I saw the film, you could hear whispers from the audience predicting future developments and when they’re always right, it’s not a good sign.

$100m was spent on wonderful costumes, beautiful sets, a magnificent music score and quality actors.  All designed to provide the most realistic impression of the war imaginable.  How easy it can be to ruin all the good work with a despairing script.  Is a line such as “I’m going to kill you before this war is over” really necessary?  Why not tell us the ending?  The seriousness of the cause just makes it all the more pathetic.