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PATRIOT, THE

SYNOPSIS:
It's 1776 and Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a hero of the French and Indian War, guilt-driven by some of his 'heroic' acts. Now a widower farmer in South Carolina with seven children, Martin is trying to avoid the war of Independence against the English, but his children, especially the eldest boy, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), smolder with ideology, keen to fight for freedom from the Redcoats, who represent a distant King trampling the rights of the new world's battlers. Only when his family is in the direct line of fire does Martin follow Gabriel into vengeful battle, seeking revenge for the barbarity of Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs). An exemplary soldier and tactician, Martin helps the new nation defeat the English, led by Lord General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson). But of course, it all comes at a high price.

"It opens with a musical growl and comes to schmaltzy close 165 minutes later. It would be much shorter if Roland Emmerich had forsaken some of the many slo-mo sequences - mostly in bloody battle. But first things first: how is Heath Ledger in this high profile Hollywood historipic? He's better than Mel, that's how. Although I'm a Mel Gibson fan (or perhaps because of it) I am disappointed in this performance mostly full of him 'acting'. Chris Cooper and Tcheky Karyo come off pretty well, too, as part of the militia fighting the English Redcoats, whose Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs) is the villain of the piece, a snarling, overwritten, overdirected and overblown character used to manipulate the audience by having him commit acts of utter bastardry against women and children. His commanding officer, the gentlemanly Lord General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson in his usually fine, understated form), is given a bit of dialogue to cover up with the official British line. (After all, wouldn't do to have the British cinema public offside.) And since the film is utterly serious (heavy handed even - close ups of blood soaked hands, lots of innocents suffering, etc) it is impossible to dismiss the villain's boo-hissary as part of the package. It's a big concept: the story of a tragic family (mum dead, seven kids, war-weary, guilt-ridden father) embossed into the large scale carnage of the American War of Independence. And it can be done; Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil has a parallel story, set in the American Civil War. And it does it with intelligence, humanity and credibility. The Patriot seems like a manufactured item complete with a big price tag and a predictable unfolding that effectively pushes the buttons of hate and revenge, but not so effectively the buttons of humanity and nobility of spirit. This ugliness reminds me of Gibson's Payback, and also is apparent in Braveheart (not to mention Lethal Weapons). He seems attracted to scripts where he plays the revenging angel from hell, as it were. As in Payback, this seems like a cheap and easy emotional device, and in this case it undermines the film's legitimacy as a historic drama. It shrinks it to a vendetta. And the film ends up like a replica - it looks good but doesn't work."
Andrew L. Urban

"Packed with emotional punch, The Patriot is a star powered human drama about courage, loyalty and the value of family. Cinematic and visceral, this action-packed Hollywood epic set on the massive canvas of the American Revolution, hones in on the story of a complex man whose personal values set all the standards and boundaries. Mel Gibson's protagonist convincingly displays grunt and leading man charisma even his screen enemy's Great Danes love him and when he promises his daughter he'll come back, there is no doubt in our mind: we believe him 100%. With a beautifully measured performance and impeccable screen presence, Heath Ledger's star shines very brightly indeed, assuring him of a formidable future. The father/son scenes between Gibson and Ledger are filled with that special magic. Yes, the film is long, but it never drags and Robert Rodat's economical script, Roland Emmerich's meticulous direction plus a thrilling score from the musical quill of the extraordinary John Williams ensures a pulse-racing and emotionally satisfying result. The entire cast is superb, with stalwarts like Chris Cooper and Tom Wilkinson. Jason Isaacs is enigmatic as the callous, unprincipled and unscrupulous adversary. Disappointing casting with Joely Richardson: she is miscast as Gibson's love interest the chemistry factor is a chilly zero. But this and a few flaws fade away as the film's impact remains. Comparisons may be made with Ang Lee's splendid Ride with the Devil and Gibson's Braveheart, but The Patriot is unique. Engrossing me totally, the film moved me enormously and stimulated my sense of morality by its passion for principles, strength of character and valour."
Louise Keller

"Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said "I have a dream..." and proceeded to outline his vision of what America should be. In a sense, Roland Emmerich's The Patriot treads a similar path. This fictional story is set around actual events; but is not a history of what America was, or even an image what it has become - it's a dream of what it should be. Indeed, King's words are echoed at one point. But for those less interested in such things, it's also a cracking tale of love and war. Although the battle scenes don't have the visceral brilliance of those in Saving Private Ryan, they are excitingly staged. There are some visually thrilling moments in this film; one involving a skirmish in a cotton field, is particularly striking. Thankfully, the dialogue fits with the period (or at least seems to), the screenwriters resisting the temptation to make it more "accessible". But be warned, this film deliberately pushes a lot of emotional buttons, and there is a fair amount of testosterone and flag waving going on. Mel Gibson delivers a great performance as Martin. He's just what's called for - a strong actor with real presence and just a hint of vulnerability; a John Wayne for the 21st century. Heath Ledger proves his potential could be enormous, playing off Gibson with a poise beyond his years. Jason Isaacs is also perfectly cast as the evil Tavington, his piercing blue eyes bespeaking his cruelty. The Patriot is a grand epic full of action and emotion, in the tradition of Gone With the Wind. But it's also surprisingly insightful in its evaluation of the American ideal - if not the reality."
David Edwards



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

See our DVD REVIEWS

See Jenny Cooney Carrillo's interview with

MEL GIBSON

and Shannon J. Harvey's interview with

HEATH LEDGER

PATRIOT, THE (MA)
(US)

CAST: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Tcheky Karyo, Trevor Morgan, Bryan Chaffin, Rene Auberjonois

DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich

PRODUCERS: Dean Devlin, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn

SCRIPT: Robert Rodat

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Caleb Deschanel

EDITOR: David Brenner

MUSIC: John Williams

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kirk M. Petruccelli

RUNNING TIME: 165 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: July 20, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: January 4, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Video







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