Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Starring: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger
Rating: 3 out of 10
Patriot has caused something of a stir in England - not for its sappiness and formulaic plot, but for its portrayal of the English as brutes. Apparently, being cast time and again as the monsters of history is growing tiresome for the modern day Angles and Saxons. But while such cinematic treatment may be unfair, it remains effective - with refined accent and manner, the genteel British villain has always been a favourite with US audiences, particularly when bested by straight-talking, jingoistic American Joe.
Directed by a German and starring two Australians, Patriot makes full use of this tired Hollywood script. Set against the backdrop of South Carolina at the start of the American Revolutionary war, Patriot features a pack of rather poorly behaved English, who shoot the wounded and captured, burn a church full of civilians, and kill Mel Gibson's son, by far their biggest mistake. (Didn't those imperialist swine learn anything from killing Gibson's wife in Braveheart? If you're English and don't want a lot of trouble, don't mess with Gibson's family. It's as simple as that.)
But the English do mess with Gibson's family, leading to consequences similar to those seen in Braveheart, although the devices of butchery are 500 years more advanced. Gibson is Gibson, proving as he did in Braveheart that one man can turn the tide of history, especially if his hair proves versatile enough to let him play both Scotsman and Colonialist.
Before the bloodshed gets rolling, Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, is happily raising his seven children in the countryside. He believes in the cause of colonial independence, but opposes war - he had his fill in the French-Indian conflict. This contradiction gives rise to much tedious melodrama. "But does temperance only masquerade as fear, and is it only our words that are of brave stock? The cause of liberty is righteous, and so not one drop of blood be in vain." This drivel doesn't stop for the entire movie.
Despite the current hubbub Patriot has stirred in England, an effort is made to present both the American and British sides of the Revolutionary conflict. Martin has a shady history, and his band of backwoods soldiers often act in a less than ethical manner. On the British side, General Cornwallis demands his officers obey the rules of war, but when the policy becomes inconvenient - i.e. when the British start to lose - he gives in to barbarism.
Then, of course, all hell breaks loose until America wins the war, which comes as no surprise. Nor are there any other surprises in the film, except perhaps the feeling of disbelief as the credits roll that one has sat through the entire ordeal without stalking out.