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The Patriot

Rated [R], 165 minutes
Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger and Tom Wilkinson
Screenplay by Robert Rodat
Directed by Roland Emmerich

IN SHORT: An epic length flick fit for summertime

Tell me if you've heard this one before: War is Coming. The legendary hero of the previous war, now a widower raising seven kidlets, wants nothing to do with it. That puts him in conflict with his zealous elder son who disobeys a direct order and enlists. When the war comes, in this case literally, to his doorstep, he is forced to take up arms to protect his family, to save his son, to free the country he now calls his own.

Yeah, it's a great pitch. Roland Emmerich's The Patriot is also a fine way to kill almost three hours of a summer day with a Godzilla sized popcorn combo in your lap. It's screenwriter Robert Rodat's second big budget war movie (Saving Private Ryan was his first) and, while there's an occasional feel of 90s political correctness to The Patriot, there's nothing preachy about any of it -- a firebrand female who speaks her mind and puts the men to shame; the slave who fights because he's been promised freedom, and the white guy who learns to respect a man he thought inferior. Here, in plain black and white, it reads like a generic same old same old. On the summer screen, driven by sheer star power and intricately filmed battle sequences, it's a kickass popcorn flick. (That feeling is not shared by our West Coast compatriot, Paul Fischer, an Australian by birth. His review here). While most of our New York crowd was talking kilts and blue faces on the way out of the theater -- you haven't forgotten that Gibson's done the fight for independence bit before, in Braveheart -- we don't make those kind of comparisons on this site.

Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is the hero of the battle of Fort Wilderness, in the French and Indian War. It is a battle he will not talk about and is at the root of the pacifism he exhibits when the Revolution comes to call. His son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) defies his father's orders not to enlist and goes recruiting at Reverend Oliver's (Rene Auberjonois) Sunday church services. There, with the unasked for help of the lovely Anne Howard (Lisa Brenner), who shames the masculine element of the South Carolinian community into putting their muskets where their mouths are, Gabriel takes the town off to war. And promptly gets his butt kicked by the more experienced Redcoats, under the command of General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) and his vicious subordinate Tavington (Jason Isaacs). Tavington's actions motivate the elder Martin to form his own militia, and the guerilla tactics he employs puts the Brits to shame. The regular Revolutionary troops are led by Colonel Burwell (Chris Cooper). Martin's militia is aided by French officer Villeneuve (Tcheky Karyo). All the performances are top notch.

While each of these characters has a basis in real characters of the time (Villeneuve on Lafayette, Gabriel and Anne on John and Abigail Adams) there is nothing about The Patriot which puts it in the category of historical epic. There are enough elements of eighteenth century life dropped here and there in the story that give it color, but it's far too simple a story to weigh down with historical expectations. Gibson's performance drives the movie. Emmerich's brutal, and we do mean brutal, direction of the battle scenes fuels it with visual power. Rodat's script has enough quiet moments built in halfway through that you'll be able to duck out quickly and not miss anything, if you have to.

If it gets you to crack a history book, so much the better. But it's not necessary. Both Gibson and Ledger sat face to face with Paul. For his reports, click: Mel Gibson or Heath Ledger

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Patriot, he would have paid...


I'll warn you two times. The battle scenes are brutal -- the woman next to me spent a good two hours with her hands over her face.

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