The Patriot (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Y'know, Mel Gibson movies seem to have a lot of the same flaws as the Grade Z movies that we love to make fun of. Things are always Black and White. The continentals were our sons, brothers, and fathers, and they were fighting against smirking, arrogant upper class twits who dressed and acted like suave poofs. The British officers shot little girls while they played with their dollies, then they tortured some puppies, and burned some churches with women inside.

In essence, all British officers were kinda like gay versions of Vlad the Impaler.

Or approximately like Simon Callow in that second Ace Ventura movie. You know, the whole British in India and Africa thing. Oh, Jeeves, bring me another tea, a tad stronger this time, and shoot those frightful beggars, if you would.

Nothing simplistic about that, is there?

In addition to the cardboard melodrama bad guys (same problem was present in Braveheart), the film follows all the standard manipulative audience-milking formulas. The whole badguys-shooting-children thing and the whole stirring-speeches-swelling-music thing. It really is a pretty trite movie in a slick and elegantly photographed three hour package.

The photography really is beautiful, I mean not just good, but really great. The script is another matter entirely. There are a couple of moments as bad as, dare I say it, The Postman.

And yet, the film manages to latch on to a greater emotional truth lurking beneath the facts, like an epic poem.. Braveheart, in fact, was based on an epic poem. The Patriot writes a new one.

In this case, the complexity of the American Revolution did have an underlying simplicity to it. We Americans like to think that we kicked some redcoat butt by picking them off from behind trees with sharpshooting skills honed by killing squirrels at 300 yards. Of course, that's romanticized bullshit. There was some guerilla activity, but the continentals also fought a bunch of real battles, and the war went badly for them for many years. They had no military discipline, no generals, and were always leaving to harvest the crop. Worst of all, they didn't have what an insurgent army really needs in order to win. They didn't have the heartfelt support of the populace. A real good chunk of the colonial people felt themselves good Englishmen, and had no desire to support the insurrection. Perhaps they had their gripes with Mad George, but they were determined to settle those gripes as Englishmen.

If England could have held on to the hearts and minds of the colonists in the streets and farms, they could ultimately have squelched the insurrection. But they couldn't, at least partially because of the types of callous and arrogant acts pictured in this movie. As the movie shows so eloquently, you can't kill a man's sons and expect him to remain neutral. And if you're going to fight on foreign soil and shoot prisoners in flagrant violation of the conventions of war, you better not do it in front of their friends and neighbors, because that shit'll come back to haunt you.

And so it did. For the continentals, the war began with some plutocrats arguing over tax rates and some idealists arguing over abstract ideas of government. But gradually, as it dragged on, it became personal, and this movie catches the essence of that emotional truth.

Gibson has a special charisma, doesn't he? He comes up with some screwy one-sided perspectives like this, and yet we always forgive him and embrace him, because he just has a special innocence and an unspoiled and old-fashioned concept of nobility and honor. It may be kind of silly, but it sure gets inside of us.

By the way, a tip of the hat to the filmmakers for the only time in the movies I have ever seen the proper battlefield technique used by a man on foot taking a charge from a cavalry officer. Dropdown low and kill his horse or break the horse's legs. Then he's on foot with you, if he doesn't get killed by the fall.

A sidebar:

Our ancestor Colonel Francis Scoopy, the famous "Swamp Chicken", was one of the great unsung heroes of the colonial cause. "Unsung" is really the right word in that they did a song about his ne'er-do-well swamp-livin' neighbor, Francis Marion, the so called "Swamp Fox", but no song about the Chicken.

It's time to rectify that.

They ran alone and they ran in groups.
They ran away from the British troops
They ran in the snow and they ran in the rain
Away from Burgoyne and Mad Dog Wayne

Swamp chicken, swamp chicken
Feather in his hat
Nobody knows where the chicken's at
Swamp chicken, swamp chicken
Hidin' in the glen
He runs away again and again.

No nudity. Joely Richardson is starting to stay dressed all the time now. Damn. Her face looks as good as ever, though.

Box Office: A winner and a moneymaker, but also a disappointment. It did an impressive $113 million at the box, but they required $110 million to make the film, so they hoped for better. But with foreign and video, everyone will be happy.

IMDB summary: 7.4 out of 10. Apollo users gave it a similar 76. Critics were not as generous. Ebert gave it three stars, but Berardinelli only two and Apollo 52, which is equivalent to two.

Rotten Tomatoes summary. Only 58% positive overall, and a weak 27% from the top critics.

DVD info from Amazon. Very widescreen, something like 2.65-1, and it looks great. A magnificent transfer, possibly the best ever. There is a narrative of the transition from conceptual art to film, three featurettes, full-length commentary, and the usual stuff.

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