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Braveheart in the new world
le 28 février 2006
It seemed for a time that Mel Gibson thought that the one thing that makes a new picture better than his last picture is a higher body count. Rack up an astonishing 182 dead bodies in 'The Patriot'. This includes death by all manner of devices 'civilised' and otherwise, including a beheading by cannonfire. Did such things happen? Indeed. Do such things continue to happen around the world? Well, there are fewer tomahawk axings (save at the occasional baseball game) but, yes, alas, we still live in a violent world. Does a movie like 'The Patriot' gorify, er, I mean, glorify it too much?
I thought this was a reasonably good movie. I could have done without the more than 1-dead-body-per-minute body count, but I thought this was an interesting tale.
--Double standards in movies--
One thing that irritates me, if you will permit me a brief digression, is that this epic film competed in epic terms, with the earlier summer release Gladiator. One criticism of Gladiator I heard over and over was that it was not true to the history of the time. I did not hear that criticism levelled at The Patriot, which is just as fictional while being based in a real-world scenario.
Of course, another parallel with Gladiator that I couldn't help but notice is that of a major villain (the emperor Commodus in G, and the despicable Tavington (played admirably by Jason Isaacs) here) taunting our hero to try to make him lose his cool, only to be rebuffed and get his come-uppance later.
Ah, formulas aren't just for the chemistry lab...
Mel Gibson turns in his usual good performance as Benjamin Martin (how colonial a name is that?), a widowed single father of a large brood of children, who had had enough of war in the French and Indian War (perhaps America's most forgotten war), reluctantly goes along with his idealistic son as he determines the best way to preserve his family (his personal definition of and attachment to liberty) is to drive the British out.
There is a dark secret in Martin's past (which I won't reveal here). Alas, I didn't think it was THAT dark, but then, in colonial times, well...
Of course, the British (in this film, and in real life) had no reason to think that they could ever lose this war (the loss of the colonies is perhaps best likened to America's failure in Vietnam -- how can a superpower, and Britain the strongest superpower of the time, lose a war against underequipped, ill-trained, poorly disciplined... well, you get the drift).
The battlefield drama, the struggle to decide what is right and wrong, the fight with the inner demons and the past, make this an interesting psychological drama despite the pile of dead bodies in the background.
The costs were staggering, but this held all the elements for a summer blockbuster -- star power, compelling theme (ID 4 also grabbed the July holiday slot, and did well, and shares many of the same people in production with The Patriot). Many have described this as the American Braveheart -- I wonder, if Gibson were not in, if that would be true? Gibson claims not to have given much advice to the filmmakers of 'The Patriot', whereas he was in charge of Braveheart. If the battlefield scenes look similar, that is because battlefield scenes do look similar, over time (and across films).
This movie shows in stark terms some of the conditions and costs of the American Revolution/War with the Colonies. It is perhaps one of the more regrettable wars in human history, much more akin to the American Civil War a century later, as it pitted relatives and friends against each other. Could there have been a better way?
Alas, we'll never know.