The Good Soldier
|Mel Gibson brings alive
the sacrifices of America's
founding fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)
We often bandy about the term "patriotic" to imply our loyalty to our country. In reality, that has come to mean standing whenever the national anthem is played and making sure to cast our votes in each and every election. Most of us don't even do that. There was a time, however, when being a patriot was dangerous; a man's home, family and life were the collateral for his ideals.
Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) has plenty of collateral. Although he mourns his recently deceased wife, he has seven wonderful children, a prosperous farm and as a hero of the French and Indian War, the respect and admiration of his community. However, the clouds of war brew on the horizon. The colonies of Massachusetts and Virginia are in full revolt against a tyrannical English king, and are soliciting support from the other colonies, many of whom have already given it. Martin's South Carolina still debates the issue, but despite an impassioned plea by Martin to attempt other solutions (followed by a dire, Cassandra-esque warning that the war would be fought in the streets of their hometowns to be witnessed by their children), South Carolina chooses to fight for freedom. Martin chooses not to, but his passionate son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) enlists in the Continental Army against his father's wishes.
Two years pass. Lord Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) has taken Charleston and as Martin predicted, the fighting is getting close to home. Following a skirmish in which Gabriel participates just outside the Martin farm, Martin and his household tend to the wounded on both sides. Into this scene of compassion canters the despicable Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs), who orders the wounded Colonials shot, Gabriel arrested and hung as a spy (for carrying dispatches on his person), the house torched and the livestock killed. In the ensuing pandamonium, Martin's second-oldest son Thomas is shot before the horrified gaze of his family by Tavington, who sneers "Stupid boy!" in his best Snidely Whiplash fashion, and then gallops off, leaving Thomas to die in his father's arms.
The despicable colonel forgets one of life's basic rules; don't mess with Mel Gibson (you'd think the Brits would have learned that after "Braveheart"). He and his two remaining sons carry off a daring rescue of Gabriel, whereupon the elder Martin enlists himself and takes charge of a South Carolina militia whose job is to occupy Cornwallis and keep him from marching north to finish off George Washington. The militiamen do this at great cost, as Tavington carries out atrocity after atrocity.
This isn't going to play very well in England, as the English here are portrayed as sadistic, vain, arrogant and somewhat stupid. That's OK, though; this is really our story, although ironically it's being told by Roland Emmerich, the German director of "Independence Day" and "Godzilla."
The battle scenes are terrifying, as armies get nose to nose and muzzle to muzzle, firing at point blank range at each other, standing in a line and praying that the volly of musketfire will pass them by, all the while cannonshot take the arms, legs and heads off of hapless soldiers in the front ranks. The violence and brutality are excessive at times, but the carnage is necessary to place in context the bravery of farmers, untrained in war, standing in the face of devastating British muskets firing with deadly accuracy into their ranks.
"The Patriot" is a bit over-the-top in places, and a bit predictable in others, leading to a half-star penalty. Be warned; this is a gut-wrenching, emotional movie. Da Queen rated it five hankies and there was a lot of snuffling going on in the packed theater in which we saw "The Patriot." Da Queen was red-eyed hours after the movie was over.
"The Patriot" reminds us of the sacrifices that were made to give this country life. Men gave of life and limb, watched sons, fathers, brothers and friends perish, left their homes and families to exist in brutal conditions with the Continental army, and often watched their life's work go up in smoke. Too often, we forget the commitment that created the liberty we cherish. That's just the first step in losing it.
See cast, credit and other details about "The Patriot" at Internet Movie Data Base.