From turn-of-the-13th century Braveheart, Mel Gibson advances more than five centuries to examine another hero reluctantly drawn into a fight for independence from England, America's favorite national villain.
Retired French and
Indian War hero Benjamin Martin, widower and father of seven children,
found a measure of peace as a South Carolina plantation owner. Then the
Revolutionary War comes to call. Benjamin's oldest, 17-year-old Gabriel,
enlists in the fight for independence against his father's wishes. The
war hits even closer to home when a battle erupts on Martin's land, leaving
Gabriel wounded and turning the plantation house into a field hospital.
Enter the inhumane
villain, Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a British cavalry commander
of colossal arrogance obsessed with advancing his career, even at the
expense of non-combatant civilians. When Tavington shoots Gabriel's 15-year-old
brother for trying to rescue Gabriel from hanging, the war becomes personal
for the anguished Benjamin.
Will Benjamin and
Tavington duke it out during the final battle of the film? You bet. Three
guesses as to who wins, and the first two don't count.
Martin's journey to that final confrontation proves emotionally fascinating
as he battles not only the British but himself. Benjamin's previous combat
experiences against the French and Cherokee pushed him beyond the brink
of humanity. The love of Benjamin's wife redeemed him then, but who will
save Benjamin now that she's dead? Will Benjamin's faith in God be enough
to restore his humanity a second time? Can "The Cause" -- the
great fight for independence -- serve as turning point and salvation for
Benjamin as well as England's American colonies?
Other characters face
their own issues. The personal story of each man, woman and child poignantly
intertwines with Benjamin's. Rene Auberjoinois (Odo of Star Trek:
Deep Space Nine) deserves particular praise for his portrayal
of a minister-cum-militiaman ("Someone has to tend the flock--and
fight off the wolves.")
Naturally, some stories
receive more attention than others. For instance, I would have preferred
to see Benjamin do more "processing" with his youngest sons, who early
in the film witness Benjamin's grief-induced battle frenzy against the
unit detailed to transport Gabriel to the gallows.
The failure to provide
an on-screen closure for Benjamin's youngest sons, plus Tavington's one-dimensional
character and some minor logic disconnects make me wish I could knock a quarter-point from my rating. I give The Patriot full
marks, however, because its excellence far outweighs its flaws. Amazingly
accurate details abound, including Benjamin's guerilla exploits, based
upon those of Sir Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion and other renowned freedom
fighters. Mel Gibson also deserves a hearty "bravo" for delivering the
first non-animated film I've seen in decades that doesn't rely on profanity
and sexuality to titillate the audience. Nevertheless, I strongly caution
parents to preview The Patriot to decide whether they wish
to expose underage children to its extreme violence.
As a viewer I look
askance at anything labeled a "must-see." Therefore, as a reviewer I rarely
dole out such distinctions. But if you consider yourself a history or
warfare buff, a parent or a patriot you must see this film.
(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)