Can Robert Rodat, the writer of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, do for the Revolutionary War what he did for WWII? The answer is: not with Roland Emmerich at the helm. Emmerich, of course, is the big budget director whose only real talent is to find every tired Hollywood movie cliche and litter them liberally throughout every scene of his movies. The German-born director just comes off of his worst movie (and that's saying quite a bit) GODZILLA, and with a budget of $80 million and a big-star talent, he goes into the non-special effects territory of 1776.
This tells the fictional tale of Benjamin Martin, a former war hero with a sordid past who is reluctant to take up the cause of his brethren in fighting the British during the Revolutionary War. Events force his hand when some Redcoats, under the sadistic leadership of Colonel Tavington, kill one of his young boys and threatens to hang his eldest...and they destroy his farm and home. Needless to say, he takes matters into his own hands, starting his own rogue militia, who proceed to be a thorn in the side of British general Cornwallis, who is accustomed to playing by his own book.
I suppose the historical accuracy of our country's events would take a backseat to movie theatrics with a German director and a lead cast of Aussies and Brits leading the way. There are only two saving graces to the film: Mel Gibson's fine performace (considering what little he had to work with) and gorgeous costumery. However, even the attention to sets and costumes proves a double-edged sword as everyone is just too well-groomed and impressive looking for the entire film, with such inanities as Joely Richardson in full-blown acoutrement when sleeping and an ensemble of slaves as debonair as the cast of the Cotton Club.
Even this could be overlooked had the film not succombed to the usual Emmerich ploy of raping every other film in it's genre. If you were to break THE PATRIOT down, the first hour is THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES, the next hour is THE POSTMAN (Costner's) and the final hour is Gibson's own BRAVEHEART. Toss in a hokey romance, a bunch of proposterous attempts at humor, and fight scenes staged so slow that even Sam Peckinpah would fall asleep, and you get the bloated and derivative flick that at three hours outstays it's welcome by two. If Emmerich wanted to rip off styles, he should have done so with Rodat's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN as directed by Steven Spielberg instead of copying every other film Hollywood churns out of the factory. Of course, that would require talent and vision, and when it comes to the team of Emmerich and Devlin, it may prove too much to hope for. Lots of lavish production splashed across the screen, but THE PATRIOT is one film that's far from Revolutionary.
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