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"The Patriot"

Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Written by Robert Rodat. 
Starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  7/4/00 


Continuing the insanity of "a whole bunch of friggin' movies" weekend, I caught my third flick in three days in Buffalo, New York, formally known as the armpit of the US but has since improved itself to the point of respectability.  I was in town visiting my dad and, since I got to town a little early, I thought I would drop in and catch another flick!!  Yes!!

Roland Emmerich.  This should strike fear into some of you, because this is the man that directed "Godzilla"...or, as Gordon "The Professional" Stokes and I like to say, "Gah-zih-ra!" because of one of the Asian characters' reactions to seeing a 700-foot lizard/dinosaur coming at his boat.  Some funny shit, and not too racist, because I am somewhat sensitive to the issue of stereotypical Asian performances in American movies.  (Note:  I said *somewhat.*)  Last year, Emmerich somehow convinced Mel Gibson, highly-paid Australian action movie star, to appear in "The Patriot," the not-quite-based-on-a-true-story revolutionary tale of South Carolina resident Ben Martin (apparently, the name Joseph Smith was taken) and his vengeful fight against the bastard redcoats from Britain.

Even though the previews for this looked like the movie should be called "Last of the Mohicans 2: Fuck Those Brits", I thought I would give Mel a chance; he has been lukewarm of late, combining the success of highly-underrated movies like "Payback" with out-and-out pissjobs like "Lethal Weapon 4", a movie I received for free when I bought my DVD player and have never watched the entire film through since, sobbing my way out of the theater on its initial run.  This movie is epic--you will spend three hours in the theaters, including previews—and has a pretty involved storyline.  But basically, Ben--widowed father of seven--has given up the good patriotic fight since he led an ugly skirmish at Fort Wilderness prior to 1776, the date when the film opens.  Independence is on everyone's mind, and the only way to get it is to go to war and take down King George and his legions of soldiers that are quickly taking position in the southern part of the 13-state America that is in existence.  Ben, speaking in front of the South Carolina legislation, wants no part in any more war and fighting, so he goes back to his home in the countryside.  But, when one of Ben's sons decides war is the best option and as a result is captured by the British battalions, it's on!!  Ben then goes into Daniel Day-Lewis mode and starts whoopin' the shit out of those crumpet-consuming cowards.

But, thankfully, Ben doesn't spend the entire movie gutting redcoats with his axe, an act that gets plenty of action in this film.  Ben's family life, his son Gabriel's budding romance with a old schoolmate, the redcoat braintrust planning their next maneuvers and speaking in detail about honor and code of conduct, and Ben's recruitment of militiamen in the Carolina countrysides all come into play throughout the course of the movie.  These scenes are handled surprisingly well, even if they are a bit familiar to those who have seen any combination of "Glory" (the best of these types of movies, in my opinion), "Last of the Mohicans", "Braveheart", "Dances with Wolves", or the forgettable and regrettable tom cruise misstep "Far and Away", far and away his worst film.  (Admittedly, this last point is debatable, but I watched "Far and Away" on TNT the other day, and it is much worse than "Cocktail.")

And, the battle scenes were cool as hell.  I get into war movies like this, because I just can't believe that people had to die like this!  After watching enough documentaries, movies, and TV series on the subject--not to mention hitting the topics in the Smithsonian museums downtown—I know that this is accurate, but it just baffles me!  You are a soldier, and boss man tells you, "Okay Justin, you're going to stand on that front line.  Now, when the guy in the funny hat yells 'Fire!', you just lay your one round into whoever is standing in front of you."

"And then?"

"And then, while you're reloading, the guys on the other side are going to yell 'Fire!' and between five and ten guys are going to fire directly at you from about 15 feet away.  You'll repeat this, and then that guy in the funny hat will yell 'Charge!' and then you take your musket knife and try and ram it into the guys across from you before they gut you.  Keep an eye out for those pesky cannonballs, also...they tend to take heads and legs clean off if they come in contact with human flesh.  Oh, and if you survive today, we'll think that you are 'good' at this, and we'll put you on the front line again for tomorrow's skirmish."

"Oh, wow...and, where are you gonna be, sir?"

"Uhh...I'll be on my horse in the back, and if the shit hits the fan, I'm gonna hightail it back to camp.  Good luck!"

Or something like that.  Things do get reasonably bloody here, but if you saw "Braveheart", "The Patriot" has roughly the same amount of blood, guts, and limbs getting cut off.  One father in my audience apparently hadn't heard this movie was rated R, since he walked his kid out of the theater after about a half-hour.  Parents...when will they learn?  Mel is back in supercop mode here, making killing look easy and fun as he slices, dices, and shoots Brit after Brit.  (Actual movie fact:  although Mel takes about 50 shots in this movie, all of them hit a bad guy.  Now, you may know that rifles back in the 1700s were not exactly accurate, but this movie dares to rewrite history and tell us that all of that history is horseshit!)

In my mind, this last point is a minus--in addition, the feeling Emmerich tries to give us that this one guy took down the entire British presence in the Southern states.  So is the extreme underdevelopment of all female characters in this movie, most notably Mel's love interest--his dead wife's sister, played by Joely Richardson.  Yeah, I thought that was dirty too, but Emmerich and the screenwriters don't think that is too big a deal.  She seems to be interested in him, and eventually, they just hook up.  This is very similar to the way Antonio Banderas' character in "The 13th Warrior" hooks up with a villager for really no good reason.  Oh well, I guess almost three hours' worth of running time wasn't enough to develop her character.

Even though it was a bit familiar at times, lethal Mel and the regal-looking costumes and sets more than make up for this and provide a good time at the movies.  And, even though it is 180 minutes in a cold, air-conditioning dark room, it does go by pretty fast.  Now, "Godzilla" is looking like a distant memory...

Rating:  $8.25 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09