Starring: Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger
Director: Roland Emmerich
IN the final, bloody battle scene of The Patriot, Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) repeatedly calls out to his troops, “Don’t retreat! Hold the line, hold the line”. It sums up the film.
The Patriot has been lambasted for being historical nonsense. I know very little about the American War of Independence, but critic Steve Vineberg is typical of the US response: “The Patriot is the ultimate bad-faith movie. It subjects us to two and a half hours of atrocities on the pretext that it’s presenting a slice of American history. Its trumped up dramatisation of the revolutionary war, however, is about as convincing as the hucksterish vision of World War II that Hollywood manufactured in the 1940s”.
Benjamin Martin is a former soldier, a gentleman farmer and member of the Legislature of South Carolina in 1776. He is a widower with seven children. Martin wants to find a diplomatic way to resolve the conflict with the English. He has seen battle and does not want to see it again. He holds this line until his middle son is shot by the evil English and his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), is taken away for execution. At that point Martin easily moves the line and he raises a militia to fight the English. This is American Braveheart. Unfortunately the rest of the story is not history. The Americans, with God on their side and righteousness in their step, repel the indescribably cruel British. The Patriot is a jingoistic, politically conservative national fantasy.
Director Roland Emmerich made Independence Day, Universal Soldier and Godzilla. He is a master of stories where unwanted invaders of the US need to be destroyed. Writer Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan. He likes stories where US soldiers claim all the credit for just about everything. The rest of the crew are among Hollywood’s finest craftspeople and so this film looks good, is emotionally moving and dramatically engaging. Ledger gives a particularly fine performance.
The Patriot, however, is too staged, too choreographed.