Sharing its star and similar themes, "The Patriot" cannot escape comparisons with "Braveheart," the new standard for epic blockbusters. While this film simply fails to rise to Braveheart's level of greatness, it is an entertaining, engrossing and enjoyable summer blockbuster, which is definitely worth watching.
"The Patriot" tells the story of Benjamin Martin, a war-hero turned farmer who seeks to keep himself and his family out of the Revolutionary War, to avoid the atrocities and loss which war would inevitably bring. His life is changed when his son joins the War effort, and the War begins to spread all around him. Ultimately, Martin is drawn into the war, and takes up the struggle with a vengeance, leading the local militia in guerrilla-style warfare against the British, leading the militia on a bloody quest for revenge and for independence.
While Mel Gibson has well-established his tremendous dramatic and comedic range, he is most successful playing the mild-mannered, good humored man marred and transformed by tragedy to a man possessed with pain, anger and a primal need for vengeance. He has played this part wonderfully as Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon films, as William Wallace in the epic "Braveheart" and revisits this part a third time as Benjamin Martin, a French and Indian war hero who has seeks nothing more to avoid any involvement in any further wars, but who is ultimately drawn into the Revolutionary War by unthinkable personal tragedy. Gibson is so successful with this type of role because of his ability to so believably reflect on his face the gravity of his pain and the transformation taking place in his heart, and the abandonment of any alternative to vengeance. Here, the viewer need not wait much longer than a half hour to see this look on Martin's face, and what follows is a lengthy, graphic struggle with many casualties as the continental army militia seeks to defeat the forces of England's great General Cornwallis. While the film is often somewhat formulaic, the filmmakers do a good job painting Martin as a complex individual and not an unadulterated hero. In a few instances, he seems to go overboard, wreaking vengeance on somewhat innocent British soldiers. This serves to make Martin a more interesting character, even if at times, it makes him less likable.
The film also features strong performances by Heath Ledger (from "10 Things I Hate About You") as Benjamin's eldest son, Jolely Richardson (from "101 Dalmations") and Chris Cooper (from "American Beauty"). Also, Jason Issacs, a relative newcomer who plays Colonel Tavington, the film's villian, shines as a model of brutality, although his performance is perhaps too good, as it will inevitably result in type-casting.
The film generally succeeds in its quest to create an epic blockbuster. It is filled with fairly realistic battle scenes and the film's grand scale, aided in part by the digital soldiers added into the film by computer, works to make this a more remarkable film, boding well for future films of similar scale. Perhaps the one greatest shortcoming of the film is that is can occasionally seem a bit formulaic and predictable. Emmerich, the director of such previous recycled films as "Independence Day" and "Godzilla" seems to have recycled a bit from "Braveheart" and while he is able to get strong performances by Gibson and the supporting cast, much of the film feels a bit familiar. There are a number of strong, original scenes in the film, however, which balance the seemingly recycled elements well. Further, with Gibson's comedic presence, the filmmakers are able to inject a bit of fun and humor into the first half of the film, offering a nice contrast to and break from the more graphic violence which takes place throughout much of the film. While the action and the historical backdrop of the film are enjoyable and impressive, the film is not necessarily for everyone. While the film possesses every element of a great summer blockbuster film, it frequently quite graphically violent, and the film's dedication to accuracy as to the battles and the methods of war results in a number of scenes in which people are shot, decapitated, burned alive, or lose limbs in battle. Further, there are also scenes in which children are put in life-threatening danger which could conceivably be a bit difficult for some. Almost all of the violence takes place on screen, including a scene in which Martin hacks a soldier repeatedly with a hatchet, spilling blood everywhere. It is not for the timid, but, as such graphic violence is carried out against soldiers and civilians on both sides, the film does not desensitize the viewer to violence, as many other blockbusters do.
"The Patriot is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The picture simply looks great throughout the film, even in scenes with great digitally produced visual effects. There are few, if any imperfections in the digital transfer and there is not a single instance in which there is anything which noticeably detracts from the enjoyment of the film. Watching this film in Widescreen, the battle scenes and the scenic vistas look so impressive, a full-screen pan and scan viewing of this film would seem a travesty. Particularly enjoyable in the widescreen format are the telescopic views of General Cornwallis as the viewer gets to see the action of the film as if through the eyes of Cornwallis.
As impressive as the digital transfer of the picture is, the sound transfer is even more impressive. The film is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and presents the sound with tremendous clarity throughout the film. Bullets seem to fly from all directions and explosions boom throughout the surround sound system. Further, while the grand explosions sound great on the DVD, many of the more subtle sounds of the film are equally well presented. The wide range of sounds in this film are generally well presented and the viewer is never required to adjust the volume of the sound to enjoy the film.
To add to an already epic film, this DVD contains a large amount of bonus materials, including a feature length commentary by Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin, a number of deleted scenes with optional commentary, three short featurettes, two theatrical trailers, and cast and crew bios, there is up to 7 hours of material on this DVD.
Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin's Feature-Length Commentary- While this commentary track is both interesting and informative. Emmerich and Devlin do directly address the criticisms of this film as being anti-British, examining how the film portrays many of the British officers as compassionate and shocked by the actions of Colonel Tavingtgon, the villian of the film, and discusses how Javington is alone cruel and brutal and not reflective of the other British officers; further, the film shows atrocities committed by the Continentals, and specifically Martin to demonstrate that in war, people can be led to do horrible things. The filmmakers seem somewhat in awe of Gibson's performance throughout the film. They also address criticisms about the portrayal of African-American characters and the relationship between landowners like Martin and the African-American characters, and about the scene in which children are given guns to fire at the enemy. Because this film strives for general historical accuracy surrounding a fictional composite story, and because the film came under fire for some of its creative decisions, it is fortunate that the filmmakers do not hide from the controversy surrounding their film and provide the viewer with answers to questions which may arise from the controversy. While some of the information presented in the commentary is also found in other special features on this DVD, the commentary track is interesting throughout its nearly-three hour length- an impressive feat by Emmerich and Devlin and contains few lulls in the commentary track. While it might be a bit much to watch this film and the commentary track in close proximity, it is generally an enjoyable look inside the minds of the filmmakers and should be watched by fans of the film.
Visual Effects featurette- This features audio commentary by Visual Effects Supervisor Stuart Robertson and contains a discussion of how 5 different scenes in the film were made, each using three separate running pictures showing how the visual effects in the film were accomplished, from the use of computer images and models, to the creation of an ocean background, filled with battleships. These five shorts are very interesting and informative and do a good job of showing the viewer exactly what role visual effects play in the film, and how an artistic image or historical backdrop can be created. The scenes seem to occasionally stop in the middle, requiring the viewer to use his remote arrows to find play arrows and press play. This can be a bit frustrating, but this featurette is definitely worth the time and effort. One caveat, however, is necessary. In one of the most graphic scenes in the film, a soldier's head is taken off by a cannonball. The featurette does show how this effect was accomplished and repeats the image again and again.
"The Art of War" featurette- This 10 minute featurette discusses the direction of the battle scenes, the concerns with making the battle scenes accurate in the weaponry and modes of attack. It features interviews with Director Roland Emmerich, the stunt coordinator, and members of the cast. Remarkably, this featurette also replays the cannonball to the head scene.
"True Patriots" featurette- The film came under fire during its release for being an inaccurate historical portrayal. Acknowledging in the opening moments of this featurette that this is itself a fictional story, this featurette examines the great pains to make the historical backdrop of the film as accurate and true as possible. From matching the uniforms to the revolutionary war uniforms held at the Smithsonian, and paying attention to every small detail. The featurette speaks of the real-life figures after whom major characters in the film were based. Most notably, Benjamin Martin, the film's protagonist was based on a composite of colonists Thomas Sumpter, Andrew Pickens and Francis Marion, and the French officer, loosely based on General LaFayette. In fact, the featurette discusses the tremendous role that the French actually played in the winning of the revolutionary war, and the role of black slaves who fought on either side of the war to seek to obtain their freedom. (Thankfully, this featurette does not discuss the role of cannonballs in the war)
Deleted Scenes- Included on the DVD are six deleted scenes with optional director's commentary. The scenes have full production values, and were mainly cut for length (parts of a couple of the scenes were actually used). Many of the deleted scenes are interesting and add a fair amount to the texture of the film. Because the film is almost three hours long, however, it is clear that cuts had to made, and the film does play well without these scenes, while their inclusion would have been nice, none of the scenes is so compelling as to require it to end up in the final print. Nevertheless, it is rare that so many of the deleted scenes on the DVD add to the film and were only cut for length. With their high quality production values and the texture added by these scenes, they are definitely worth watching.
The DVD also features two theatrical trailers, a teaser trailer and full trailer for the film, fairly in-depth talent files, and "conceptual art to film comparisons" containing a number of scenes in which the viewer is simply shown the conceptual sketch art of the film and then the scene as it was filmed. Each of the many scenes included is only about 5 seconds long. While impressive to demonstrate how closely the filmmakers were able to realize their conceptual drawings, this is otherwise not a special feature that adds much to the appreciation of the film.
While this is a film filled with graphic, bloody violence and many innocent casualties, it is an enjoyable and entertaining film and offers everything that one has come to expect from a summer blockbuster. While attempting to create a film as well-made and compelling as "Braveheart" has proven an exercise in futility, not just for this film, but for other summer blockbusters such as "Gladiator" Gibson puts in another of his trademark strong performances which unquestionably drives this film. Although viewers have undoubtedly seen the effects of pushing Mel's characters over the edge in previous films, Gibson truly is in a class by himself in playing this type of character, and the result is impressive and enjoyable. While a bit long, the story is enjoyable and the portrayal of the historical backdrop for this somewhat fictional story is an added bonus. Finally, with the generous amount of bonus materials provided on this DVD, this film is definitely worth watching, and is a recommended purchase for avid action film fans.