I could give The Alamo some credit for not falling into any of the most obvious Hollywood traps. There was no extraneous love story, nor an over reliance on special effect laden battle scenes. But in its bid to become a historical epic, it lost any semblance of audience appeal or interest, which is why I can't give it much credit at all.
After waning political careers, legendary Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) follow the dream of their very own pet nation as they head west to Texas. Crockett gets to town later than Houston, under the assumption that all the fighting was over and the land was his for the taking. Instead, he finds himself a hapless victim in the bloody massacre perpetrated by Mexico's General Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarría) at The Alamo. We also meet Colonel William Barrett Travis (Patrick Wilson), commander at the Alamo, gallant and self-righteous, despite leaving his wife and children for Texas and whores. Also introduced is the indomitable Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), leader of the volunteers and a knife-wielding, slave-owning drunkard, who spends the entire battle sick with consumption. After an indeterminably long wait that is successful only if its true intention was to mirror the two weeks the men at the Alamo anticipated death, the villainous Santa Anna attacks, leaving no survivors. Afterwards, the film follows Houston's haggard Texan army until they defeat the Mexican army securing the independence of Texas . . . at least temporarily, for a mere 9 years later, it became a US state.
Despite it's blatant attempt to be grand and historical, I was consistently lost in The Alamo. The average viewer, who knows that the Alamo was lost, but that Houston's army won Texas back, gleans very little more. There are a few hints at the historical context, such as a quick, one-line allusion to Houston's and Crockett's failing political careers, but politics is otherwise left unexplored. And yet, there are exceptionally clear, if obvious, written tidbits of useless information telling us, in multiple ways, that the Alamo was a highly contested and fought over place (Duh).
So this historical tome contained little history, and neither did it contain any drama. Some slipshod attempts in flashbacks to Bowie's lost love or animosity between Travis and Bowie were completely hollow. They revealed nothing about the men we were to see die and had no other possible relevance. All of the characters were given minimal, if any background and even less personality. The bumbling Houston surfaced only as scruffy, bottle-hording, ditz. There was just nothing there. Only Crockett had any charisma at all, and it was seldom expressed. One such small moment Crockett is almost funny as he tells a dying man, in his Tennessee drawl, "I'm awful sorry about all this." Certainly this was not one of Thornton's best performances. As long as a TV miniseries, with the price tag of the major Christmas blockbuster it was originally intended to be, The Alamo was way too long and expensive for the amount of nothing it contained.
The sight and sound added little to the thin storyline. The music was as predictable as the story and never swayed me to any sadness. The shots, too, were boring desert-at-dusk scenes that belong in a coffee table book of the Southwest. The two most interesting shots consisted of a drawing class lesson in how shadow falls, in 3 shades, across a face, and a dead soldier bleeding into water, remarkably clear, for a river sullied by the thrashings of hundreds of soldiers.
Akin to the battle waged within, reinforcements will not be sent for you when you enter The Alamo's theater. Thus, I recommend, despite Houston's words, forget The Alamo. It's a waste of precious time you could be spending watching a PBS special, or at least something with a plot.