Patriot, The (2000)

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 07/20/00 17:32:27

"Like the makers of Godzilla care about history.."
3 stars (Average)

Looking towards a Mel Gibson movie is always a good thing. Except if you saw Bird On A wire. Looking towards an Emmerich/Devlin project is always an experience of immense nausea. So with those two facts in mind, The Patriot was always going to meet a suspicious audience when it came to be. And the suspicions were right. Mel is on fire. Emmerich and Devlin burn brightly early and quickly die out to a fizzle.

In ID4 the entire world gasped as the aliens blew up Washington, but as time wore on and they ran out of money shots, the film petered out to a dry, unclimactic ending. So too in Godzilla, when everyone turned up to see the monster, then lost interest as Matthew Broderick got lost in a Jurassic Park scene. So is it any wonder that with those two epics behind them, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin follow the same formula and end up peaking far too early for an audience to leave buzzed.

Mel is a former nasty soldier who has settled down to raise his kids. The civil war approaches and his sprogs want to go fight, but Mel won't have it. "Sorry dad," says Heath Ledger, "I'm big. Me fight now." Mel's not real happy about that, but amidst much "you don't own me" type yelling, realises his kid is bullet bound. This thing got so heated I half expected to hear Heath scream "you're not even my real father" as he threw down his hat and stomped his foot. While all this happens, Joely Richardsonů blinks.

She blinks a lot.

Someone get this woman a pair of Raybans. Or a line of dialogue. Either will suffice. Honestly, if this character was any more lifeless, it'd pass for a sequel of Weekend At Bernie's. If she, as a female, was any weaker, we'd be looking at German porno. If she was any less interesting, she'd be Nic Cage. The sexuality she exudes is something akin to the sexuality of a slug. You know it has sex, you just don't think you could be arsed hanging around to see it happen. Richardson 's efforts in desperately trying to make something close to a performance out of zero dialogue reminds you of an apple orchard in the Sahara desertů

The script is annoying. Remember how the big opening of Saving Private Ryan was ballbusting gore and reality, and the rest was utter tosh? Well the same writer is at work here and it could never be more apparent that the hero of the Saving Private Ryan opening was Spielberg, while the villain wrote the rest. Because The Patriot is all "rest". The storyline takes far too many dips and crests as it tries to keep things exciting when all we really want is a story that doesn't seem made up by a guy who watched too many cowboys and injuns movies.

So what's good? Well, the action is good. Lots of blood, lots of guts, knives in tumtums, cannonballs taking off legs and heads, and lots of Red Dawn style guerilla warfare where the good guys get the win despite overwhelming odds. Ledger's performance is enough to show he can hold his own on a larger stage, not to mention as a ladies drawcard. And children die. You can't underestimate the audience satisfaction at sweet little children being shot. Now, if only that damn Jonathan Lipknicki kid could take one in the throat..

On an overall "stick your mind in neutral and your eyes in 1st" level, Patriot scores pretty well as a blockbusting spectacle. It could have been a lot better, especially if Mel had allowed his character to get dark as he should have been.

The bad guys are bad enough, the explosions big enough, the tender moments fruity enough, but this is no Braveheart. Nor is it a Gladiator. It's certainly on Thin Red Line. No, The Patriot is more of a history lesson for people who think South America is Texas. With bangs. If you want to see a really good civil war flick, try Ride With The Devil. It has a story. It has acting. It has Ang Lee directing.

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