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The Patriot

Now, people actually went to see this movie. I was not one of those people. On the outside, this movie looked like nothing more then a two hour long commercial titled: Why America is So Damn Great. Or, at best, a rehash of the same thing Mel Gibson has been doing for the past ten years, set in Colonial Times. Lethal Musket, or, Lethal Weapon 5: Martin Riggs Through the Ages, maybe.

It should come as no surprise that American movies about the American Revolution are, shall we say, slanted. The protagonist (usually an all-around good guy who's caught up in the bloody, inhuman, just-plain-nastiness of war because of some tragic reason) spends a third of the movie slowly losing his humanity while fighting the evil British before realizing that his cause is just and he shouldn't feel bad about the people he's horrendous slaughtered. After all, they're British.

So lets go through the motions. It's South Carolina, dateline: 1776. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is an all-around nice guy. An upstanding citizen and widower, he tends his farm outside Charleston with his unholy horde of kids. With a total of seven brats, Ben's a manly man, just like Mel Gibson.

When he's not feeding the flock, he's serving in the South Carolina general assembly. Five minutes into things, the Assembly calls a meeting to decide whether to send South Carolina's boys to join the Continental Army. Ben, a veteran of the French and Indian War, vehemently opposes such a plan. He's no coward, understand, it's just the idea of fighting England scares him poopless. As well it should.

Never the less, he loses the fight, and people flock to the Continental Recruiting desk parked right outside the Assembly's door. Much to Ben's chagrin, one of the proud American boys eager to sacrifice themselves to their cause is his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger)

Well, we know No Good Will Come of This and so does Ben. After Gabriel is wounded in a nearby battle, Ben turns his house into a hospital/sanctuary. Then Colonel T. Ultimate Evil (Jason Isaacs) arrives on the scene and everything goes down the outhouse. An amalgam of every British stereotype created during the Revolution, Colonel Evil orders the Martin house burned and Gabriel hung. Gabe's younger brother, Thomas (Gregory Smith), gets in the way and eats a lead sandwich.

Snapping like a Cheeto, Ben rescues his weapons, grabs two more of his boys, and goes out to do some damage, rescuing Gabriel from the Hanging Squad in a flurry of good ol' fashioned Mel Gibson death dealing.

Through the rest of the movie, Benjamin Martin rises to fame as a freedom fighter, nicknamed "The Ghost". With his merry band of Militia, Martin makes life difficult for the British Army in general, and Colonel Evil in particular. About 90 minuets later, Colonel Evil asks Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) for permission to get nasty on the rebel scum (as if he's needed permission before).

Losing his family one person at a time, Ben Martin is forced to ask himself one question. Not, "do I feel lucky," but, "is it all worth it."

The original script (written by Saving Ryan's Privates scribe Robert Rodat) told the story Francis Marion, a.k.a. the Swamp Fox. But the slave rapping, Indian killing Mr. Marion is not the most likable "hero" of the Revolution. So we have Mr. Martin (who is most defiantly not a wild and crazy guy): an Every Man, caught up in the bloody conflicts of war.

And Mel Gibson makes this work. He really is a good actor, able to craft believable, sympathetic characters out of the thinnest of set ups. Plus, Ben Martin, as a character, has lots of meat on his bones, and more time to interact and grow. At 164 minutes, The Patriot  certainly has no shortage of time. The only thing it has a shortage of is editors.

This is another movie that I loved whole heatedly until I sat down and thought about it. Being the son of two History professors sucks, especially when watching a movie that blatantly distorts history at every turn. A part of me hates Hollywood for bastardizing history to make a buck, while a second part of me tells the first part to shut its cake hole and watch the damn movie.

I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?, that's who. And the more I thought about it, the more its historical flubs (large and small) gnawed at me. The British didn't take Charleston until 1780. Colonel Evil's regiment, The Green Dragoons, wore (what class?) green. Those should be 6 lb. cannons. How could Cornwallis be stupid enough to give someone like Colonel Evil command of a cavalry? He made some stupid mistakes in the war, but nothing that stupid. And do we really need another amoral villain to push our buttons?

Just look at this guy: Colonel Tarvington (as Colonel Evil is commonly know) burns down a church full of civilians for Christ sakes. Jason Isaacs is appropriately monstrous in his role, but come on. I don't wanna cheer for the Good Guy because the Bad Guy is Satan; I want to cheer for the Good Guy because his ideas are better.

Still, Jason Isaacs does a really good job here, too. I fucking hated Colonel Carvington. I wanted his stiff upper-lipped ass dead. Then his character went so over the top and the spell was broken. I was remember, yes, it's an American movie about the American Revolution. The British must've been Evil. After all, they fought against us.

Then again, why blast a movie because one character wasn't 3-D? I'm not that petty.

So, I'm left with the real question: "How many demerits should this movie get for historical inaccuracy?" I fell kind of merciful towards The Patriot . After all, nobody every said it was based on a true story. And there is a lot going for this movie. Director Roland Emmerich (a personal favorite of mine ever since Independence Day ) knows how to direct both action and people in a way that keeps me on awake for 2 hours. And what action scenes they are. When I say "bloody conflicts of war" I mean bloody. We don't make war like we used to.

All in all, The Patriot  is fun. Flag waving, jingoistic, not particularly smart, but fun. The actors do good jobs with what they have to work with, and the epic battle scenes are just the kind of stuff to make you go, "Whoa." The movie's heart is in the right place. A few more brains and thing would've been perfect.

written by Dr. Psy Chosis