The Patriot

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, Tchéky Karyo, Tom Wilkinson.
MPAA Rating: R for strong war violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan
June 30, 2000

When I first heard that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were collaborating on a Revolutionary War epic, I was pessimistic. Their previous efforts, like Stargate and Independence Day, were unimpressive to say the least. Actually, they really sucked. Then I found out that Robert Rodat wrote the screenplay, leaving Emmerich only directing and Devlin only producing. Great! The writer for Saving Private Ryan -- a great film with simple, realistic dialogue -- is just what they need to finally make a decent film. Alas, the credits may not indicate it, but it is my suspicion that Rodat's screenplay was brutally torn apart to comply with the director's taste.

Mel Gibson must have signed on to perform the original script, playing Benjamin Martin -- a single father and farmer in South Carolina. He is a veteran of the French-Indian War, but his loyalty to the British crown has disappeared along with the rest of the colony. In Charleston, the legislature wants to join in the rebellion, but Martin (who I suppose must be some sort of delegate) wants no part of war. His opinion is in the minority, and even his oldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), enlists immediately.

After some time serving for General Washington and the like, Gabriel returns to the farm. Then, the Martin home somehow becomes a haven for wounded British soldiers, but when Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs) finds Gabriel there, still dressed in his Continental Army uniform, Tavington orders him hanged, and the estate burned. When son #2 (Gregory Smith) tries to stop them, he is shot and killed by Tavington. At that point, Benjamin goes to his old friend, Col. Harry Burwell (Chris Cooper) and joins the revolution, with Gabriel under his command.

That sort of makes sense, right? Some of the chronology seems confused, which was probably the result of over-editing and Emmerich's general disregard for coherency. At least he's good with the action scenes. Several really stand out, including one where Benjamin and two of his younger sons kill off twenty British soldiers as they are taking Gabriel to the gallows. Again, plausibility takes a secondary role, but it is exciting to watch.

In place of plausibility, we get a strict adherence to the clichés of both war films and family melodramas. The action and the story cease to be moving when it all becomes too predictable. Some characters might as well wear a black shirt with a skull-and-crossbones on it, because we know that they are marked for death a good ten minutes before they finally keel over. Of course that leads to The Patriot's biggest problem: overlength. Much time is wasted within 164 minutes on shameless (literal) flag-waving and stilted dialogue that must be spoken slowly because... it... is... very... important.

That very unrealistic dialogue causes me to wonder whether Emmerich and Devlin made their own stain on the script before it was filmed. On a positive note, it is by far the best film they have ever made. What, you might say, even better than Universal Soldier and Godzilla? Believe it or not, it is true. Unfortunately, this film falls into all the traps that the dastardly duo has set time and again, so I can't give The Patriot my full recommendation -- and I really wanted to like this one, I swear!

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Patriot (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
The Patriot (2000) -- VHS
The Patriot (2000) -- DVD
The Patriot: The Official Companion, by Suzanne Fritz and Rachel Aberly -- Paperback
The Patriot, a screenplay novelization by Stephen Molstad -- Paperback
The Patriot, a screenplay novelization by Stephen Molstad -- Audio Cassette
The Patriot: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan