Thursday, February 10, 2011

MM Movie Review: The Patriot

The 2000 film “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson is one of those movies I like to categorize as a very beautiful, very moving, very well made utter piece of crap. There are so many problems with this movie it is hard to know where to start so I’ll try to begin on a positive note. The movie “looks” fantastic -and since this is a movie and not a radio program that’s important. It is shot well, it really looks like a painting brought to life and there was obviously a great deal of attention to detail. The acting is good all around, though sometimes the players are forced to make the best of very two-dimensional characters. It is moving in a way but is written in so ham-fisted a fashion you feel as though you’re being forced to feel a certain way rather than naturally being caught up in the story and characters. Once again, the characters are almost entirely flat. I know I am getting negative there but I am really having to scrape to find something good to say about this, though, again, the “look” of the movie is fantastic and that goes a long way.

My problems with this cinematic propaganda piece begins with the title. It is called “The Patriot” and yet the main character, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) never does anything out of patriotism. He is a single father when the American Revolution begins and as South Carolina votes on joining the conflict he more or less takes the side of the loyalists. Though his claims to have political leanings toward the patriots he does not think that the grievances of the colonies warrant going to war and he votes against it. During the debate he speaks the famous quote of Mather Byles, asking why they should trade 1 tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants 1 mile away and he wisely warns that an elected assembly can trample on the rights of a man as easily as any king. That would have been an interesting piece to explore but, of course, we cannot do that because our hero must be a revolutionary, albeit a reluctant one so as not to appear as a warmonger. No, his sulky, rebellious son (Heath Ledger) defies his father to join the Continental Army and Martin resolves to remain neutral and sit out the conflict.

Well, we cannot have that and so to get Martin into the war the British have to murder one of his children. That duty falls on the villainous Colonel William Tavington (a fictionalized version of the historic Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton). He leads the “Green Dragoons” who, despite their name, wear red uniforms because the filmmakers think we are all idiots who will be confused out of our puny little minds if we see British troops wearing anything other than red (in fact there were Crown forces in the war who wore red, green and blue uniforms). Tavington callously shoots one of the Martin children at which point Benjamin drops his “too proud to fight” attitude and totally goes Rambo on the British, enlisting his remaining pre-pubescent little boys to help him ambush a British column, slaughtering them to the last man with Martin taking a tomahawk to the last survivor in a fashion that Attila the Hun would have called gruesome and over-the-top. I would like to say that this was an isolated incident but it is not and Tavington must continue to slaughter the loved ones of our hero in order to keep him in the war.

This is, of course, entirely unrealistic but that is far from the only aspect that is. What else is there? Well, there is Benjamin Martin who is a plantation owner in colonial South Carolina who owns no slaves. No, all the Africans working for him are happy free men who are forced by the dastardly British into their own ranks. I find it almost comical that it is okay to make the hero of the movie a homicidal maniac who is either totally non-violent or chopping up men like firewood but they cannot show him owning slaves because, historically accurate or not, that would just be unforgivable. In reality, of course, most slaves fought for the British but we cannot mention that. Then of course there is the British troops who shoot little boys and have churches burned to the ground full of women, children and the elderly. That never happened and claiming dramatic license for so horrendous an atrocity really does not begin to excuse it.

Also, considering the aforementioned attention to detail this film was obviously capable of, I find it impossible to excuse the glaring historical inaccuracies and even blatantly impossible absurdities. We are led to believe that Martin and his band of volunteer fighters turn the tide of the war in the south and ultimately defeat the British army of Lord Cornwallis. That, of course, never happened. Lord Cornwallis was never defeated in any battle he fought throughout the campaign in the south until his final surrender at Yorktown. However, the two incidents that really make me slap my head and scream WTF at the screen involve the use of firearms. First, less seriously, there is the pistols. In one scene in which Tavington surprises Martin and his little band we see the British colonel draw his pistol and shoot down a fleeing rebel on a horse at what looks to be easily several hundred yards distance. Now, keep in mind that even a long musket at the time had an effective range of only about 75 yards and pistols could only be anywhere close to accurate at very close range. Were I feeling charitable I could overlook that but the next I could not -it was just insulting. In one scene we see Martin and his militiamen ambush a British column and decimate them with musket fire -IN THE RAIN! Let me repeat that: they ambushed the British with FLINTLOCK muskets in the RAIN! Forget historical advisors, were the filmmakers just retarded?! Had anyone on this whole crew ever fired a flintlock musket before? I have and I can assure you that you cannot fire a flintlock in the damn rain! You will have trouble getting off a shot even if the humidity is too high. It doesn’t take a freaking rocket scientist to understand that a flintlock cannot fire when WET! I really can’t say more about that or I’ll pull something.

Finally, there is the climatic battle which is supposed to be a take on the patriot victory at Cowpens. Again, it is totally inaccurate as Lord Cornwallis was not present at that battle, it was not a very significant affair nor did Colonel Tarleton die in it. Tavington must though because, by that time he had killed two of the Martin children and terrorized the rest so Rambo-Mel must have his vengeance. If it is possible for a battle scene to be over-acted this accomplishes it. You have probably all seen similar efforts; battles in which everyone seems to agree that the victory will go to whoever can scream the loudest. In a hyper-patriotic Yankee-Doodle orgasm Benjamin Martin actually grabs the Stars & Stripes and races across the battlefield like he’s running for a touchdown and impales a horse with Old Glory. Yeah, damn right! Cuz this is ‘Merica! The battle is won, we flash forward to the British surrender at Yorktown and we see everyone set to live happily ever after in this make-believe America. Black and White Americans working happily side by side and Martin ready to settle down to marital bliss with his sister-in-law (yeah, wish I was joking there but, afraid not).

To give credit where credit is due it is at least mentioned (and briefly shown) that the final victory was due to the timely arrival of the French. It isn’t much, but it is something. I also liked the token French character. They made him brusque and rude of course but he was not as stereotyped as I was expecting, being a very rough and tough character. Considering how hyper-nationalistic the movie was and how the British were portrayed as monsters or stiff, tantrum-throwing sissies I was fully prepared for any Frenchman in the film to get the ‘arrogant surrender-monkey’ treatment. Thankfully, the worst excesses in that regard were avoided. However, that does not detract from the fact that anyone hailing from the British Isles will find this movie highly offensive -and rightly so. Again, it “looks” fantastic, absolutely fantastic and that counts for a great deal. However, the characters are flat and unrealistic, just like the story. The British are baby-killing Nazis and the “hero” is not a patriot; just a guy out for revenge against the side who hurt his family. One can completely believe that if a sadistic American officer had killed his son Martin would have just as easily joined the British army and been just as bloodthirsty as those he fought. On the whole, a very grand looking and colorful failure.
(I wanted to end with a catchy war phrase like, ‘Keep your powder dry!’ but if anyone involved in the film happened to read this, that would obviously just confuse them)


  1. Maybe the title referred to Col. Tavington. :-)

  2. Your review so sums up my opinion of that movie that I can't add any more criticism except to add that the villagers-in-the-church burning absolutely pushed me over the edge. This was South Carolina not Oradour-sur-Glane!

  3. Dear MM:
    I have been thinking about your great profiles and i would like to recomend you the idea of making an new kind of profiles, about pretenders of the throne of diferent countries for example otto von hasburg, maria romanova,
    georg friedrich von hohenzoller, louis of borbon, etc.
    Please respond.
    Ho from argentina

  4. I have done pretender profiles and will do more, the only proviso being that I will not get involved in disputed successions.

  5. I first watched "The Patroit" years ago and dispite not knowing all the historical information I know now, it was obvious at the time that the movie went way over the top in its depiction of the British as villains. I have not see the movie since then but your discription sums up some of the problem I noticed quite well. On another note, I always look forward to reading your articles. It's refreshing to know I am not only one who feels the this way about the current shape of our world ect. Keep up the good work!

  6. The Patriot is a movie about how Americans of the late 20th to early 21st century prefer to Imagine the Revolution: Evil British Overlords who terrorised the American Colonists, thus justifying the Revolution itself, for they were oppressed and had no Freedom, and the Valiant Colonists, who were filled with Virtue and honour, stood up to this Evil, and brought Freedom to all who had been Oppressed! So of course the British had to be evil tyrants and the colonists had to be good (not to mention hold modern Values in the 18th Century), as this is what the audience wanted. No one really seems to want the Truth these days. They want to pretend America’s Founding Generation fought for the America they imagine is the Ideal, and place in these men their own beliefs.

    Just read anything by Glenn Beck, the man who actually accused Jamestown Settlers of being Socialists, and how Jamestown nearly died because of Pure Socialism until Capitalism saved them.

    This movie is basically a Glenn beck Version of American History dramatised. Its really utterly inaccurate bur people prefer it to the reality of the 18th Century.

  7. Well, Beck didn't invent the Jamestown story, I'd heard that long ago. They tried sharing everything, the industrious got tired of working for the lazy and so the policy of "he who does not work does not eat" was adopted. But one cannot expect Beck to be consistent. He claims to be a very religious Mormon but loves quoting the most irreligious of the founders. He's against socialism, communism & collectivism but claims to revere Martin Luther King Jr. Yeah, don't get me started on him...

  8. Well I'd love to get you Started on him actully, I think he deserves a post. He is, after all, an Enemy of Monarhcy, not to meniton of real History, common sence, Christian Decency (Mocking a Man for his SOuthern accent and beratign him on TV afte rhe lost his home and three dogs and a cat?)

    T'would be interesting... at least for American Readers.

    But not sure it coudl be fit into the blog.

  9. Oh and another inaccuracy. "Old Glory" should not be the "Betsy Ross", that flag did not exist in the early part of the War; It should have been the Grand Union, but I suppose the Filmmakers didn't want to show the Noble Americans flying a flag with the Union Jack on it... may confuse us stupid viewers you know.

  10. It is oh so very tempting. Recently some of his tirades about the Roman Empire vs Roman Republic almost got me to do it. Let me also say that there is a great deal I agree with Beck on and he has pointed out many looming dangers that no one else will dare say anything about. However, when it comes to the problems I have with him it is just hard to know where to start or how to organize it into something coherent.

    That is a problem with him particularly because Beck is one of those who really tries to have everything both ways. He praises the American Revolution but every other revolution is bad. He says Muslims are going to take over the world but he's not against Muslims. He's an isolationist but he wants to defend Israel, he's against FDR and Wilson but he loves Lincoln, he's against big government and for states' rights but the Confederacy was totally evil. He criticizes Obama for his hostility to Britain then turns around and describes the British Empire as if it were a totalitarian theocracy. I mean, there's just no end to it...

    I have been wondering lately if he might not be nearing the end of his shelf-life. The way he's been going now he's been making alot of enemies on the right as well as the left and he seems to be throwing over person after person as being not "pure" enough for him and his standards. I also think it is only a matter of time (if that times has not already come) that people just get tired of him with four hours of radio & TV every day, a constant stream of books, movies, documentaries, live shows, etc. He's gotten sooo rich sooo fast (and I don't begrudge him that -if people buy the horde of stuff with his name on it that is on them not him) that I don't think it is the sort of success that can be kept up long-term.

  11. You should also do a review on the historically inaccurate Elizabeth movies that depict the Spanish as these evil tyrannical men while the English are seen as these noble and just people. (You might have a done a review already. idk. Btw your blog is awesome. keep it up.) It is a shame that history movies end up being some form of propaganda of an idea or ideology. They are never objective.

  12. I did do a review of the "Golden Age" movie on my old blog but it's long gone now. I thought that movie was atrocious in every way but "looks". I might have to do it again though that's a subject that always brings up alot of arguments. The English still get very defensive about Queen Elizabeth though no one, even relatively few Spaniards, ever seem to stick up for poor King Philip who always gets badly treated in these movies. Fire Over London was another one -really a good movie but just horribly inaccurate and propagandistic.

  13. What? You mean King Philip really wasn't a Vampire who lusted after the blood of the Living?

  14. Hey, my fave inaccuracy WRT the Patriot is a two-fer... spotting a settlement of escaped slaves right out in the open along a seacoast/waterway ... and the fact that although approximately seven years pass from beginning to end, the Martin kids never grow any older!

  15. Very true about the children. I thought the village on the coast scene was ridiculous but it didn't occur to me that they were runaway slaves just because there didn't seem to be any slaves in this version of southern history.

  16. Kum-by-yah, "'Murican Mythology" at it's "best." And to boot--starring an Anglo-hating Aussie! Are our public so stupid? Don't answer that! I loathed this brain-dead piece the first time I saw it and can't remember a flick with which I argued so much. The church scene sent me to swearing--and not against "Tavington." Oh the humanity (poor 'Ban!). Too bad Martin himself wasn't "trapped" inside. Should have expected such orgasmic over-the-top farce though from the hero of "Bravefart."


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