Even though this movie came out over ten years ago, it seems to be striking home now more than ever, when our politics have gone haywire. Sometimes, it’s good to pull these retro DVDs down and remember what we celebrate ID4 for, and it has nothing to do with alien annihilation. Though annihilation of tyranny from overseas, that is another story, and this is where The Patriot comes into play.
Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a humble man of some means running a successful farm in South Carolina during the American Revolution. His black farmhands are free men and women, and love Mr. Martin and his family dearly. Benjamin is a widower, and father to seven children. He is also a war hero for his actions during the French and Indian War, but this part of his history is dark, and he prefers to keep the experience to himself. As the clouds of war loom ever closer to his home on the Santee River, he takes the family to Charleston to sell his goods, visit with his sister-in-law, Charlotte Selton (Joely Richardson), and meets in the town hall to give his input on the situation of the British occupation. He warns that the war will not be fought out on the frontier, or on some distant battlefields, but right in their own backyards. Even though he is a veteran, his family comes first, and he vows not to fight this time around. His son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), has other plans, and signs up. Benjamin’s friend, Col. Harry Burwell (Chris Cooper) promises to find Gabriel a position away from the battlefields, as a clerk or a courier.
Benjamin’s prediction about the fighting comes true as Gabriel comes home while carrying battleplans. He has been shot, but manages to make it home safely. A few hours after Gabriel has been tended to, there comes the sounds of gunfire and battle among the cotton fields in the Martin’s front yard. There are Redcoats and Continental armsmen swarming all over, and soon the dragoons arrive, and the battle is lost. The Martins and their fieldhands attend the wounded, both American and British. Soon, the dragoon commander, Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs, Lucius Malfoy of the Harry Potter movies) arrives, and thanks the Martins for looking after his troops, then commands that the American soldiers be put to death. Tavington has an infamous reputation for using brutal tactics, even against civilians. After a search of the grounds, he finds the battleplans that Gabriel was transporting, and asks who was carrying them. Gabriel says it was him, and that the Martins were just bystanders that were helping out a wounded man. Tavington orders that Gabriel be arrested, and Benjamin lets it slip that Gabriel is his son, not by words, but impulsive action. Benjamin’s second son, Thomas (Gregory Smith) runs out to Gabriel to help him get free, and Tavington shoots him in the back. Thus starts an internal war between Martin and Tavington, and the whole of The Thirteen Colonies is not going to be big enough to keep these two men from attempting to destroy each other.
This movie is epic in just about every way. It features a rich historical background, amazing special effects, little bits of comic relief here and there, and a message that has gotten lost since it was released. It reminds us that this nation was not built on the ideas of a few great men, but many amazing people that worked the land as hard as they fought for it. The cast is huge, and there are many names and faces we recognise from other movies and television, even Star Trek DS9. We are taken to peaceful places like Gullah Island, off South Carolina’s coast, where even the smallest bits of happiness are cause for celebration. This is almost three hours of great film, and needs to be looked at often to remind us that the current bickering on Capitol Hill is somewhat pointless compared to what brought us there. The movie has some brutal war scenes, so don’t feel ashamed if you find yourself looking away. Sometimes special effects and movie magic can just be too good at times. The primaries are coming up very soon, so before you go to the polls to vote for that GOP contender, watch this movie again. If you are voting democrat or independent, watch it for all the same reasons. Remember that America was founded by zealots and pagans, dreamers, players, and freaks, men and woman of science and art. It took all of them to get us here. Let’s not let them down.
I give this film a Musing review of