Before I saw this movie, I had heard some complaints about the historical accuracies of the film. To those I was going to say in this review, "Who cares?" However, after watching The Patriot, I have realized that some historical accuracy may actually have helped the movie in the entertainment department.
Movies don't have to be historically accurate to be entertaining. U-571 sure wasn't historically accurate, but it was a great movie. But some movies need to be accurate to get the point across, and The Patriot doesn't quite do that. It isn't the fact that Mel Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, is based on a pretty foul slave-raping "war hero" and Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) was well-respected and liked among his soldiers, when in the movie the roles are all but reversed. The problem is the very one-sided viewpoint. Usually, I don't mind the enemy being depicted as evil, but Isaacs' Tavington is rather brutal for a British officer. I'm no expert on the Revolutionary War but wasn't one of the prime reasons the British lost was because their standardized way of fighting wasn't prepared for the colonists' guerilla tactics? Tavington seems to have the more brutish tactics down from minute one. Furthermore, I would like to see some scenes based around real events. Was Benjamin Martin's real-life counterpart really the sole reason why the British lost that big battle in the South, and did that battle even take place? Maybe it did, but I doubt anything like what is shown on screen.
But does any of this really matter if you just want to see some entertainment? Maybe. I went there after hearing about this historical inaccuracies (and it is pretty obvious even without hearing about any specific details) expecting and wanting some good action, and the result is mixed. The action scenes are pretty good - there's a lot of brutal fighting, some strategies that almost look like something out of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and so forth. However, there seems to only be about an hour worth of action out of this two hour and forty minute movie. There's some good scenes in between and some bad scenes. One scene that seems really out of place is the wedding, which does create some emotional ties between two of the characters but slices the movie in two. If memory serves me, the colonists were really struggling near the end of the war, but this never shows up in the movie. In fact, they all take a weeklong vacation in the middle.
The biggest problem with The Patriot is that it looks like a bloated Braveheart.The previews suggest that Mel Gibson is trying to reprise his role as William Wallace, only in the American Revolution. And watching the movie, that's what it looks like. Up until the end, Gibson isn't fighting for freedom but for revenge (in Braveheart, he starts fighting to avenge the death of his wife, but it quickly turns into a fight for freedom). The problem with this is that these two movies are going to be compared, and Braveheart, of course, is going to come out on top. First off, the basic premise that this two movies are being compared hurts The Patriot, and the actual comparisons really hurt. The acting is no where as good as that in Braveheart - Gibson seems to overdo it in parts. The drama is no where as good - The Patriot seems no where as realistic as Braveheart. And the direction isn't as good. The Patriot has a cheesy soundtrack that plays at bad times. To create a really momentous war scene, silence in terms of music is the best way to go. The music is playing the whole time. Second, there are two many slow motion shots used, especially during the final, climatic battle. Third, Mel Gibson starts looking like Kevin Costner in The Postman when he starts wagging the American flag around. The Postman is not a good movie to be compared to.
The first half of the movie is pretty good, but The Patriot should probably have only been a little longer than the first half. Ranging in at two hours and forty-minute, the movie has thirty minutes of too much footage that could have easily been pulled out. The action scenes are pretty good, but to get to each one, you have to sit through a few slower scenes.
If you just want some entertainment, go see The Patriot, but if you prefer to see movies with at least some historical bearing, you might want to wait until the next Revolutionary War movie comes out.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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