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. "The Patriot"

Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a fictional character based on a number of real men who fought in the Revolutionary War, not the least of which was Thomas Sumter. Just as Sumter didn't want to fight in this war until the British burned the cottage that his wife and son were in, so Gibson, as Martin, needs a son to die before he, too, signs on for the fight. Once he does, he's in a role that bears resemblance to his fine performance in "Braveheart". This movie is Mel Gibson.

He's reluctant to fight because of what he did as a younger man, in the French and Indian War some 15 to 20 years previous. Though he's tormented by his vicious deeds during that violent period, he came out a hero to other men, who continue to "buy him drinks" when they have the chance. We don't witness such moments but, once he "gets over it" and joins the battle, the action part of the movie takes off. His obvious leadership makes all the difference to the men of the community who must join the fight that affects them and their families so personally. This was a fight amidst the homes and farms of the cities and countryside.

In this neighbor to neighbor struggle, with the British bent on preventing rebel independence in the America of 1776, staging great field battles that have the rebel forces greatly outnumbered and out-armed, Martin begins a campaign of quick, devastating raids on British supply lines and units -- the classic offense against a superior force (Chechens against Russia?). Never having seen such strategy before, the British call him the "ghost" because of the way he and his men appear, destroy, and fade into the brush. But the true identity of this ghost is eventually disclosed by an ex-neighbor fighting with the redcoats.

Martin's eldest son, Gabriel, (Heath Ledger) who preceded his father into battle, becomes one of his lieutenants alongside Tcheky Karyo in a nice performance as Jean Villeneuve, the French officer promising that his country will indeed show up to help them fight the British.

The villains are rendered with the simplistic brush of caricature in the form of Colonel Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson), who actually led his regiment into South Carolina and was far more brutal than this effete and elitist portrayal would have us believe. And, while he had a protege in 2nd lieutenant Tarleton, "The Patriot" creates for us the far more sinister and evil Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a fictional character contrived as a much more ideal (hissable) movie villain. The Revolutionary War is personified in the revenge story between the heroic and virtuous Martin and this sadistic sociopath.

Another departure from historical accuracy is the role blacks had in the Revolutionary War. Despite their ready acceptance by both sides in the movie, they did not serve as fighting men in South Carolina army units, although they did in the navy.

Despite historical inaccuracies, "The Patriot" serves to remind us of our history and of the brutalities out of which a nation was born and shaped. Americans never could accept being subjects. That's why they landed here and built the land we call home. It's become so comfortable and free of tyrants that we tend to disregard the origins of the journey. It takes entertainment like this to put the subject in our path and, perhaps, inspire some gratitude for what got us started.

At 2 hours and 38 minutes, the story might have been better realized with a trim of 20 to 30 minutes, though afficionados of this kind of movie and of Mel Gibson, might well argue for the extra time on the basis of the epic scale of the story.

Chris Cooper pulls off his trademark naturalness as Colonel Harry Burwell, Martin's battlefield superior, and Joely Richardson devotedly plays the adoring and dutiful Charlotte Selton, sister of Martin's dead wife. Roland Emmerich directed; Robert Rodat ("Saving Private Ryan") devised the screenplay which does its work without obvious digital "effects", sex or serious swearing.

Estimated cost: $110,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $115,000,000.

Rated S, for Service to country.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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