Retro Review: The Alamo

The Alamo has always been as one of the most classic legends of American history.

The Alamo symbolized an epic struggle, desperate realization of horror and the legendary men who fell to an onslaught of Mexican soldiers numbering in the thousands. It was a story that lived on in infamy as an inspiration.

In the 2004 version of the events, General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) meets wily congressman David Crockett (Billy Bob Thorton) in a crowded high class ballroom. Houston moves Crockett with his promises of the grand state of Texas and promises he can get as much land as the eye can see if he just enlists for a period.

Meanwhile knifeman Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) watches as his rival Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis (Patrick Wilson) becomes Colonel of the Texan stronghold, The Alamo. Bowie knows that his inexperienced rival isn’t fit for such a prestigious command and stands up against him.

Soon after the arrival of Davy Crockett, a huge army of Mexican soldiers descend upon the Alamo lead by their egomaniac General Santa Anna. For days, Santa Anna doesn’t attack as he seems to measure his kill like a steady bullfighter. When he finally attacks a legend is born.

The Alamo story is a majestic legend which houses great drama, self sacrifice and action but this 2004 version has none of that.

The film gathers up all the key players then blends them up and then shoots them out through a salad shooter in hopes the audience wants to follow. There is no feeling and a lot of useless screen time. There are so many scenes that could have been cut.

I think the filmmakers should have unveiled a lot more of Jim Bowie’s background and pay less attention to moping Houston. We hardly get to know any of the key figures except for Thorton’s Crockett and we know they will all meet terrible ends. It’s hard to feel sorry for these guys or even get involved with the story because they are overly moody and drunk for most of the picture.

The film’s first half seemed to be spread out and seemed to be building to the epic bloody battle but it seemed to limp across the line as the battle commenced. The battle wasn’t even that harrowing.

I remember how striking epic battle sequences in films like “Zulu” and “Glory” kept my eyes glued to the screen. The scenes should have been harrowing and unforgiving and the audience needed to be more involved in the film. By taking the film to that level we would remember the Alamo.

I wanted to be moved and I wanted this film to lift the epic story to another level. All of the problems that this version of The Alamo had were better dealt with and realized in the classic John Wayne version. This film makes the Duke’s version practically immortal.

Another huge problem with The Alamo is that it suffers from “Pearl Harbor syndrome” where the film goes for the all mighty happy ending. It is the Alamo, for crying out loud. It is supposed to be tragic, flooring and moving but you lose any respect for the film as the third act begins. Stay the course; we don’t have to win every battle.

I do have to say that the performance by Billy Bob Thorton as Davey Crockett is probably the best of the piece. I never thought in a million years he could pull it off. I guess I was tarnished by the Disney’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier from 1954.

But here he allows us to see him for a man and not the infamous grizzly dueler. I loved Davey Crockett as a kid and knew his television anthem by heart but for me Thorton allowed me to see him finally as just the man. That is probably all I will take away from this film.

This Alamo will fall and no one will remember it. What a shame.

1 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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