The Patriot movie poster art

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Robert Rodat
Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

Benjamin Martin (Gibson) is a man with a past, and it’s one he does not wish to revisit. In his past, he was a warrior of great renown, but now he’s a widower with seven children to care for. This might not be such a big deal, but he’s in an American colony in 1776–and war is kicking up all around him. To make matters worse, his eldest son Gabriel (Ledger) is convinced his father is hiding behind his children–and desperately wants to enlist in the Continental Army. When Gabriel gets into more than a spot of trouble and starts to drag the family down with him, Benjamin has to step up and try to keep the entire thing from coming down around their ears.

I would like to say to Devlin and Emmerich that they have hereby been forgiven for Godzilla. Yes, this movie is just that good. Gibson gives the caliber of performance he thought he did in Braveheart. And indeed, there will be many (and have been many) who compare this film to that earlier outing, which Nick over at CHUD brilliantly termed “Death Wish in a kilt.” But Patriot succeeds where Braveheart stumbles. The first film was a revenge flick, like Nick says, pure and simple. Every cry of “FREEDOM!” stank of bullshit. This film goes with the premise that there are more important things than revenge, and you can actually see Benjamin making the choice periodically through the film. Other characters are constantly reminding him, “Revenge is one thing, but keep your mind on the cause.” It works, and Gibson has been cleansed of the sin of that bad kilt flick.

The other performances from the ensemble are right up there with Gibson, everybody from the evil Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs plays well the wicked killing machine, i.e. a 18th Century Terminator) to Gabriel (Ledger takes a huge step upward in his career thanks to this role). The children are amazingly good, especially considering the scenes they have to pull off. When two sons are enlisted to help take out a party of Brits and their father is explaining to them how to start with the officers and work their way down–it’s heart-rending. The youngest, Susan (Skye McCole Bartusiak, who was equally heartbreaking with just a smile in Cider House Rules), pulled a Temple of Doom on me in one scene and basically held my heart out in front of my face so I could watch it beat. And she’s eight. Someone make sure she has a good agent. Please.

Action sequences are amazingly well-done and never more brutal than necessary. A rapid attack into a camp of unsuspecting British soldiers turns into an intricately-choreographed slo-mo exchange that John Woo would relish. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a cannonball and a bunch of soldiers meet…here you go. An escaping British soldier is treated to…literally…a bloodbath. If there’s one hackneyed bit about the film that I walked away with: never, ever piss off a character played by Mel Gibson.

The film, for the most part, runs right up to the edge and somehow manages not to be too much. Yes, there’s plenty of Mom and Apple Pie (TM) moments, but in the context they work. There is one literal flag-waving moment toward the end that was a bit too rah-rah for my tastes. Other than that, it’s truly a piece of work and all those involved should be more than pleased. Don’t miss it.

Closing random thoughts. For those who go to the movies expecting flat out historical accuracy, you’ve got to be kidding. And for those who find the film bombastic and sometimes overdone, don’t forget–at its heart is Roland Emmerich. Next you’re going to tell me you want physics in Bruckheimer films. Please.

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