- Directed by Roland Emmerich
- June 28, 2000
An American colonist barely loyal to Britain gets swept into the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonists when war comes to his doorstep.
The Patriot is a great drama set against the backdrop of the American Revolution that is about the personal costs that some people can pay during a war. This is not fact based and features at least one extra historical event though it does feature a few fictionalized versions of real individuals. As I have stated on numerous other occasions, do not go into Hollywood presentations expecting accuracy. They are there to make drama and not present you facts necessarily.
Mel Gibson plays colonist Benjamin Martin, a frontier war veteran, who is haunted by the things he did while fighting. Now with the American Revolution upon the colonies he does all he can to avoid becoming involved in the conflict until his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) steps up. Benjamin has no desire to leave his children orphans as his wife has passed prior to the events of the film.
His son Gabriel joins the Revolutionary Army to fight against the British. He also serves as part of the reason his father joins in the fight. Gabriel returns back home wounded and weak and his father allows other Continental Army soldiers who followed to stay there but when British Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) finds them he not only hauls off Gabriel but then he kills all the wounded and that sets Martin and Tavington on a collision course.
There is a very good supporting cast here. On the American side we have Chris Cooper as Harry Burwell who was one of Martin’s officers in the French and Indian War and is now a colonel in the Continental Army. The fantastic Tchéky Karyo is Major Jean Villeneuve who is a French officer that trains Martin’s militia. The late, great René Auberjonois appears as Reverend Oliver which is interesting casting since he originated the role of Father Mulcahy in the original film version of M*A*S*H. Jay Arlen Jones plays Occam, an African slave who is sent to fight in his master’s place and faces racism during his service and initially stays to obtain freedom by serving a year but stays after that year has passed. The talented Donal Logue is Dan Scott who is initially an adversary to Occam but eventually comes to respect and befriend him. Lastly we have Leon Rippy as John Billings. You do not know the name but probably recognize the name and face.
On the side of the British, aside from Isaacs as Tavington, we have a group of actors playing fictional individuals as well as fictionalized versions of real people. Tom Wilkinson shows up as Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis who is disgusted by Tavington but does little to actually stop his ass. Peter Woodward plays Brigadier General Charles O’Hara who is Cornwallis’ second-in-command and dislikes Tavington as well. Adam Baldwin plays Martin’s neighbor who sides with the British Captain James Wilkins.
All together that is a great cast. I would not call it perfect but it is strong. No slouches and nobody that gives a halfhearted effort.
The Patriot is not a short film, but it does not feel like it is long. It is carried by a good story and good acting. And most importantly the special effects used to bring the period to life are not obvious even after all this time. They blend very well with the film. Nothing is done to make things look super cool. The effects are there to tell the story and do not drag you away from it.
Do not go into this expecting historical accuracy of any type. This is a work of complete fiction. There are some real characters presented here but Benjamin Martin and all the featured central characters never existed and what they did never happened. The handful of real people that do show up are highly fictionalized.
Reportedly Tavington’s actions involving the church stirred controversy because this was something that did not happen anywhere during the war. To that I say “So?” This is a completely fictional work set during real events and his character in the film was exceptionally brutal. It was what his character would do and heightened just how terrible of a person he was.
Martin in the film does not own slaves. Those that work for him are free blacks and reportedly this caused a kerfuffle among people who called it a white washing of slavery. For the people in the back: THIS IS NOT BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS! THIS IS A DRAMATIC PRESENTATION! DO NOT COME LOOKING FOR REALITY OR FACTS!
Benjamin Martin gets involved in somewhat of a romance during the course of the film with Charlotte Selton (Joely Richardson), his sister-in-law who looks after his children while he is out fighting. Weird with that woman being his wife’s sister. “Hey kids, your aunt is your new mom. Surprise!”
Martin is a man forced to fight and his and his family’s involvement exacts a high tole on him. He loses his home and friends and even some family. But he cannot just let it go. The source of all his problems is the psychotic and brutal Tavington who will never see justice of any kind at the hands of the British. Benjamin Martin becomes involved as much to protect his family as to bring about justice.
I think the title is a little misplaced. Benjamin Martin is not so much a patriot but more of a man forced to take action by circumstances to protect his family as well as avenge wrongs. He avoids becoming involved in the Revolution at every presented opportunity until his son shows up at his door and forces his hand. He has seen too much to the point that corpses floating down a river make him concerned for his children and do little to disturb him.
The Patriot is a good movie. It has a great story and good acting with just enough action to tell the story. Watch it!