This descriptive critique shall describe while comparing and contrasting two films, The Patriot (2000) and The Alamo (2004). Both these films portray historical events and depict scenes of a war or battle. It is interesting to note that both these films have come under considerable pressure to stick to the 'truth' and portray the events as they actually occurred. However, due to our ways, history is hardly ever perfect. This paper shall take a look at both these films and shall critique them, while paying close attention to the film production and these movies as works of art rather than historical records.
The Patriot (2000), directed by Ronald Emmerich, casts Mel Gibson as the former hero of the French/Indian War, Benjamin Martin, who decides to leave the ranks of the army and denounces fighting so that he can raise his family in peace. He moves to a plantation and lives out a happy life with his wife and seven children. But fate has something brutal in store for him and there is a conflict with the British. It is in 1776, North Carolina, and his eldest son, Gabriel Martin, decides to join the Continental Army and goes to fight on the war front. Gabriel is wounded in a battle and returns home. The Green Dragoons follow Gabriel home and Thomas, Gabriel's brother, is shot dead by the leader of the Dragoons, Colonel Tavington. Benjamin is furious and he takes his two youngest boys and makes a plan that enables him to take out the whole squadron of the Green Dragoons that had come with Gabriel and were holding him prisoner. Benjamin decides to go with Gabriel and together they witness the disastrous battle of Camden. Soon afterwards, Burwell appoints Benjamin as the head of a regiment of the militia. By this time, Tavington had captured many of Benjamin's men and Benjamin plays it smart and tricks General Cornwallis, the leader of the British army, into releasing them. This infuriates the General and he orders Tavington to crush the colonials using any means necessary. Tavington is a cruel man and he makes all the villagers of Pembroke go inside a church, which he burns down, killing everyone inside. Gabriel's young wife, Anne, was amongst them and she also dies with all the other villagers. This infuriates Gabriel and tries to kill Tavington but is killed himself. Benjamin is distraught at this point, having lost two of his son, including his eldest one and decides that he is going to the stop fighting. But something instills a loathing for the British in him and he returns to fight with the militia, leading them into a battle at Cowpens. He lays a trap for the British army there and finds Tavington in the midst of the battle. An intense fighting continues in which Tavington is killed and Benjamin barely survives. Soon afterwards, the British troops surrender to the French and the war ends, leaving Benjamin to live out his dream of a peaceful life with his remaining family and his wife, Charlotte.
Although this was a movie well made and entertaining, its interpretation of the history could be questioned. It is found that the interpretation shown in the movie is quite troubling, especially if you show this movie to children. The personality of Benjamin is shown to be too courageous and too patriotic, so much so that it is likely that children would consider him to be a better person than the founding father George Washington himself. Benjamin, more or less, leads the militia singlehandedly into winning the war. There is a little mention of Washington fighting in the North but so much attention is paid to Benjamin's perils that the audience tends to believe that it was only he who was responsible in winning the war for America. Of course, this movie was about Benjamin and this kind of a problem is common to all the other historical dramas as well, where it becomes very difficult to personify history in a movie without creating some drama and vis-a-vis some creative inaccuracy. The director of the movie, Emmerich, and the screenwriter, Robert Rodat, seems to have had decided to focus their whole movie on “the fringes of the conflict, using the anchor of a young soldier's letters home to tie things in with the bigger picture, which leaves the film free to exemplify and symbolize rather than deal in historical specifics.” (O'Brian) The role of the militia in this movie was shown to be of utmost importance to the winning of the war and thus it emphasizes the “grassroots nature of the revolution over the 'professional' Continental Army, and manages to limit the role of international troops to the presence of Tcheky Karyo as a French advisor helping out with training.” (O'Brian) Also, in many places in the movie, an impression is given that there is something unmanly about the British army's fanatically bureaucratic obsession of traditional ceremonies of war. The film's wistful enjoyment corroborates with the fancy of a position of utter morality from which all coercion can be warded off. Thus it is in my opinion that the Patriot lacks a well-balanced conflict in the story and can be said to be a shallow film with the focus on the wrong kind of information.
The Alamo (2004), directed by John Lee Hancock, casts Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, the hero at the Alamo. This is a historical story and one that has been told many a times before. Thus it is not surprising that Disney decided to start the movie with pre-title sequence of the ending war, with pictures of people dying from both sides. The story begins one year earlier to the battle, with Sam Houston, played by Dennis Quaid, is at a party with David Crockett. At this time, Houston is trying to convince some investors into investing in Texas and Crockett is almost at the end of his political career. Both these men were famous and people a year earlier had though that one of them would have been the President this year. Since both these men have failed in the East, they have come to the West to inspire some potential. Houston proclaims that there is a threat from the Mexican army and that troops should be deployed but the new authorities in the region refrain and does not listen to what Houston has to say and he is removed. At the same time, the Mexican army is building up its forces in the Alamo, which is located in San Antonio. There is a Catholic mission there and it is being used as a crossroad for the Mexican army, who are working in collaboration with the bandits, or the resistance. The Mexican army is large and it catches the defenders at Alamo off guard. Three groups of men are inside the Alamo, some units of the regular army, headed by Lt. Col. William Travis, and Jim Bowie's volunteer militia units. Just before the Mexicans arrive, Davy Crockett and a unit of Tennessee volunteers also end up at the Alamo because Crockett had thought that the conflict had ended and that he might be able to become the president of the new Texas republic. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna heads the Mexican army Anna. A bloody battle takes place lasting for 13 days at the end of which the Mexican army overwhelms the fort in a few hours.
After watching the movie, I come to the conclusion that the bloodbath at the Alamo, whether in reality or in fiction, served little purpose to the cause of the Americans. Basically, all it did was to slow down the Mexican army a little bit, giving Houston some more time to develop a different strategy and to amass a larger army. The men at the Alamo all died and created a cry of unity, a useful catch phrase to rally soldiers elsewhere to victory. This is why, because of the insignificance of the advantage of this sacrifice that this battle is made so much momentous. The movie moves slowly throughout, but it is noted that the war scenes and the battles are done in a really amazing manner. The other aspects of the movie, including costumes, locations, weaponry and other technical areas were very good and are considered contenders in all respects. The costumes used are very authentic and this creates very good scenery for the movie. Most of the men are dressed in tight-fitting jackets with tails, wearing tall beaver hats. Crockett is not shown wearing his buckskins; and surprisingly, he does not even has his coonskin hat. The Alamo itself appears very realistic and the battle at the climax is a masterpiece. The time of the battle is also close to the real time in which it occurred, at night, just before dawn, but I feel that this realism could have been sacrificed in the interest of clarity. Most of the battle appears in dark orange haze, with countless explosions, gunfire and bodies falling dead and dying. This is attributed to Hancock's unimaginative direction because he “never fails to put his camera in the most obvious position. But he doesn't seem to contribute much to the performances.” (Warren) In the end, it is concluded that the movie is well made and surely more historically accurate than any previous film on the subject. “The sets are impressive, the camerawork is generally fine, though corny; much the same can be said of Carter Burwell's score. It's unlikely that this script could ever have done more than provide a great role in Davy Crockett, but Hancock clearly has trouble bringing out its other strengths. “The Alamo” is a handsome movie, slow-paced but intelligent; in the last analysis, though, it's unworthy of its subject.” (Warren)
O'Brian, Harvey. “The Patriot (2000).” A Review. http://indigo.ie/~obrienh/patriot.htm
Warren, Bill. “The Alamo (2004).” A Review. Found at http://www.revolutionhometheater.com/index.html