Remember the Alamo? You may not want to after seeing this dull depiction of one of America's most historic battles. 2004's The Alamo is perhaps a bit more historical than its John Wayne predecessor, but lacks the charisma and character to pull audiences through its two-hour-plus running time.
John Lee Hancock, who directed Dennis Quaid to huge success in 2002's The Rookie, re-teams with the actor to portray the 1836 standoff between a bunch of Texas militiamen and a huge Mexican army, run by the ruthless dictator Santa Ana. Quaid plays General Sam Houston, but the more unlucky souls that actually get stuck within the confines of the fort include Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, Jason Patric as James Bowie and Patrick Wilson as Colonel William Barrett Travis. Emilio Echevarría plays Santa Ana. The problem is, how can a movie be truly entertaining when everyone knows that all of the characters are going to die at the end?
I am no historical expert - in fact, I know very little about the exact happenings at the Alamo. When it comes to movies like this, all I can base things on is the amount of flag-waving that takes place. Thankfully, aside from a bunch of cheesy lines about Texas, the movie does not portray all of the Alamo defenders as heavenly creatures; in fact, very few can be considered decent. This doesn't mean that the characters are historically accurate - I doubt it very much - but The Alamo does a good enough job tricking us into believing they are. In fact, the movie is pretty good at being believable - believable to the point where none of the battle scenes are entertaining or exhilarating; they are downright tedious. Actually, the whole movie is.
The Alamo swims neck-deep in the seas of mediocrity from beginning to end, managing to stay above the surface for air but never able to get to shallower waters where it can relax and actually enjoy itself. The movie introduces us to the film's key players, but never gets close to making any interesting characters. Thornton's Crockett is likeable enough, but that is about all that can be said. Quaid's Houston is bland. All of the other characters blend together; they do so even more when they are killed quickly without any kind of dramatic effects. So, the movie's real problem is its lack of character commitment. There are plenty of good war movies out there where there are several likeable characters that, within ten minutes of the opening credits, the audiences are pleading with the screen for them not to die. It isn't easy, but it can be done. The Alamo has none of that. As each character met his inevitable fate, I felt nothing for them; by the time they died, I was glad because it meant that the movie was nearing its end. War movies rely on one thing more than any other, and that is its characters; The Alamo fails mightily.
From an entertainment perspective, The Alamo is pretty boring. I've sat through worse and, if need be, I could watch this movie again. Nevertheless, it is bland, emotionless and fails in one of its most important departments: the battle scenes. Similar movies, such as Zulu, create tension, and we get to see the strategy of the rival soldiers unfold on screen. I saw none of that here. Once the Mexicans start their attack on the Alamo, there is no excitement and no thrill. Some defenders may say that this is due to the fact that we know the outcome; I lay much of the blame on director Hancock, who, frankly, has no experience with war films and obviously was the wrong man for the job. Though there are thousands of Mexican soldiers running around, I never really got the sense that they were there once the battle commenced. A few Mexican soldiers climb over the walls, everyone gets killed, and that is it. Some of the main characters are killed without the slightest glance.
The movie ends with a very rushed sequence that shows Houston taking on Santa Ana a month after the Alamo fell. It is a good way to end a film that otherwise would end in defeat (who thought that the defeat of a well-known Texan would be a bad thing?), but the sequence is so poorly executed that I just didn't care.
The Alamo works as a somewhat informative movie that has its moments, but its lack of character development and good battle scenes leaves little to be desired for. More than anything else, the wrong director was chosen for what should have been an ambitious and engaging project.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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