Although The Patriot is ostensibly about the American Revolution, director Roland Emmerich’s film actually has very little to say on the subject. Instead we’re treated to yet another story of a man out to revenge the cold-blooded murder of his family (anyone happen to catch Gladiator?). I’d suggest passing a law limiting the use of this storyline to once per year, but then I suppose they’d just choose another tired plot to put in its place. Hacks, after all, will be hacks.
Gibson plays a retired army officer, staunchly opposed to ruffling the feathers of the British monarchy while most of those around him scream for revolution. He’s witnessed enough killing for one lifetime, and now just longs to raise his seven children in peace. Phrases such as “taxation without representation” are bandied about during the arguments, but sink like the leaden clichés they are. When the Americans do go to war, British troops pay a visit to Gibson’s plantation one day and commit all sorts of nasty war crimes. Needless to say, ol’ Mel comes to rethink his position on the revolution.
Which is why the plot of this movie is so poorly conceived. It pretends to be about patriotism, but Gibson’s real motivation is revenge. Rather than showing that Gibson’s original pacifist leanings were misguided, the story actually proves over and over that they were right. Emmerich freely inserts fictional events anywhere in the plot he sees fit, and makes the responsible British officer (Jason Isaacs) unbelievably cold-hearted and sadistic, because otherwise the audience is shown no particular reason why they should be rooting for the Americans. (In case you’re unsure of what parts of the film to cheer, don’t despair, because John Williams’ overly-intrusive musical score prompts you at all the right moments as subtly as if they lit an “Applause” sign above the screen.)
Gibson’s acting is generally good, except for the occasions when he lapses into the quirky mannerisms of his Lethal Weapon character which seem totally out of place in a movie about the American Revolution. Likewise, the production values are high, and succeed in raising the film above the level of complete mediocrity. But let’s be clear here – The Last of the Mohicans this film ain’t.
When, late in the film, Gibson charges forward in battle wielding a tattered American flag, the scene is supposed to evoke feelings of national pride. The only feeling it aroused in me was embarrassment at its phoniness. Leaving the theater, I was totally unsure that the Revolution was even worth all the trouble. After all, would tea and crumpets every afternoon really be so bad?