Mel Gibson has carved out his niche: Epic-Length, Loosely Fact-Based Movies About Long-Haired Sweaty Guys with Great Personal Charisma Whose Personal Tragedies Force Them to Get Involved in Bloody Wars Against England.
In “Braveheart II” — I mean, “The Patriot” — Gibson is Benjamin Martin, a well-respected widower with seven children who, despite his legendary prowess on the battlefield, has no interest in the current battle between the American colonies and mother England. He’s all for freedom, sure, and he doesn’t care much for taxation without representation. But war is full of blood and killing, and he’d rather stay home and protect his family.
Fine, except that his oldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), is a non-pacifist and joins the Continental Army. After fighting for months, he stumbles back home, having been wounded on his way to deliver important war documents. His family lets him hole up there, which endangers everyone when the evil British Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs) finds them and orders the house burned and Gabriel hanged. The Martins all escape, except for second son Thomas (Logan Lerman), who rashly tries to save Gabriel and gets shot by Tavington.
Now, it’s personal. Benjamin arms his two other boys and ambushes the group of 20 soldiers leading Gabriel off to be hanged. Benjamin kinda loses it, too, and goes completely colonial on one guy’s butt, using a hatchet to hack him up but good. This is foreshadowing: Will Benjamin’s brutal war tactics of the past come back to haunt him? Is ALL fair in war, or is there such a thing as mercy?
The movie doesn’t want you to think too hard about it. It wants you to watch the big, bloody battle scenes, which become the main order of business when, even after his dad has rescued him once, Gabriel goes out to join the army again. Benjamin, still seeking revenge against Tavington for William’s death, joins Gabriel and is promptly made commander of the militia.
Their main foe is General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) and his forces. Benjamin proves himself crafty and sly, using the British army’s silly rules of war conduct against them and making fools of Cornwallis. It all comes down to hand-to-hand combat eventually, and you may rest assured that everything turns out approximately the way you’d expect it to.
The movie keeps up its pace except for the middle, when Benjamin gives his soldiers a week-long furlough. The movie takes a break, too, shifting focus to Gabriel’s obligatory romance and Benjamin’s love for his still-living children.
Forget about “The Patriot” having any grand themes of patriotism or loyalty. It’s a lowest-common-denominator summer action movie, pure and simple, directed by Roland Emmerich (“Godzilla,” “Independence Day,” “Universal Soldier”). The characters are all prone to speech-making, and for every good and noble element, there’s at least one crowd-pleaser tossed in, too, as if to remind the audience that even though it’s about history, they don’t have to be all that smart to enjoy it. (Benjamin steals Cornwallis’s dogs! Gabriel’s porcine father-in-law can’t hear very well! Every single British person is a twit! Tee-hee!)
Remember how the famous “mooning” scene in “Braveheart” was a nice break from the intensity of war and the heavy theme of freedom that otherwise pervaded the movie? Well, about 90 percent of “The Patriot” is the equivalent of that scene — “Braveheart Lite.” Like the war itself, it’s too long and too bloody; unlike the war, it doesn’t pay off in the end on anything more than a Good-Guys-Win, Hollywood-movie level. It’s fun for a while, but hardly revolutionary.
B- (; )