Retro Review: The Patriot

The American Revolutionary War’s version of Robin Hood locks horns with those blasted “redcoats” in an epic battle for freedom and independence. Sound intriguing?

Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a plantation owner and devoted father of six. Mortally haunted by the loss of his wife, Martin tries to raise his children the best he can. What the children don’t know is that their father hides a secret. But when the British army lay siege to his life and children that father must revisit his darkest secret, try to bring home his first born and seek vengeance for his family.

Mel Gibson has been down this road before in a lot of his other pictures which is probably why Columbia tried so hard to secure him for this film. A man on the bridge between sanity and love who must face overwhelming odds. Who else could have played Benjamin Martin but Gibson.

There are the obvious comparisons to “Braveheart” and some may say “Gladiator” but “Patriot” does discover some new ground even if a lot of it has been seen before. The new ground begins with Gibson’s connection with his family.

The moments when Gibson is trying so hard to be their father but also trying to hide the past are a new angle I haven’t seen in Gibson. It’s a mixture of Martin Riggs (Gibson’s character in the “Lethal Weapon” series) and the father he played in “Ransom”. I liked those moments a lot. They really made me believe and become involved with the struggling Martin.

Once more Gibson shows that he can find a different level in a patriotic hero. Building on the struggle within the character of Martin, the film tries to keep upping the ante of hatred for the British as Martin’s world is brought down around him and he realizes he can’t protect everyone. What I found a little disconcerting was the film’s complete disregard for how far that ante may go.

In some ways I really do feel it went to far. What I refer to is the three really extremely gory scenes. Were they really needed to chronicle this hero’s struggle. Unlike films like “Three Kings” and “Gladiator”, these gory scenes weren’t there to accent the realism or create a turning point.

I am not sure why they had to be that excessive. Another problem I had was with the ending. But since I don’t want to spoil the end for those who wish to see this I won’t get into details. But here’s a hint and write me if you agree.

Towards the end there is a scene where we find Gibson on his knees amongst the final battle. This final turning point can go both ways. Would it have been better if the scene went the opposite way?

Aside from these two obvious flaws and that the film tries hard to be “Robin Hood” or “Braveheart”, it’s quite a good film.

I admire what it must have taken Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich to do this kind of film as they depart science fiction. I am wondering what kind of adventure genre they will try next.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: June 19, 2000

One thought on “Retro Review: The Patriot

  1. You know what shocks the hell out of me about this movie? Almost no one in it attempts to have a Southern accent. Actually, scratch the “shock” part — I’m kind of relieved. Nobody can do Southern accents right except Southerners, so I’ll count that as a blessing.

    Even though the director borrows and, well, kind of bastardizes South Carolina history (yes, I’m from S.C.), I’m not ashamed to say I got sucked in. Heath and Mel are a pretty knock-out combo, and Jason Isaacs makes for a crackin’ good baddie.

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