The Alamo
Touchstone // PG-13 // April 9, 2004
Review by Shannon Nutt | posted April 11, 2004
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If there's one thing that director John Lee Hancock understands about history, it's the fact that it's not about dates, places and events…it's about people. And so, after much delay and negative publicity, we finally get to see The Alamo, his version of the siege in San Antonio where Mexican General Santa Anna and his army laid waste to a couple hundred brave Texans (many Mexicans among them).

But if you're looking for grand battle sequences and special effects, you've come to the wrong movie. While the action in The Alamo is impressive, it's not the thrust of the storyline. Instead, Hancock focuses his movie on four main characters. There's William Travis (Patrick Wilson), a recently divorced Colonel who is assigned to maintain the fort; Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), the famous knifeman who has the loyalty of the men but is slowly dying of pulmonary consumption; the legendary Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton), whose heroic history may be more myth than fact; and General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), the man who will eventually use the Alamo as a rallying cry to lead his troops into battle against Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto.

Of these four men, the one that stands out most is Crockett. Thornton gives one of his best performances ever in the role (it's an Oscar-caliber one, although it will probably be overlooked), giving Crockett the kind of humanity that we've never seen from other actors who have portrayed the character. Here's a man who clearly knows he's not worthy of the adulation that others give him – yet he uses his fame to his advantage to help rally the troops and keep them hopeful in their darkest hour. When their fate seems sealed, and the men are sharing what may very well be their last meal together around the fire, Crockett tells them the truth about his experiences – revealing that he's no braver or noble as the rest of them. It's a defining moment for the character, as he is able to now go to his fate as the man he is, rather than the man others have created him to be.

Another strong performance is that of Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston. He has to face the tough choice of not sending help to the Alamo, because he knows he doesn't have a big enough army. Later, when Santa Anna starts coming after his own men, he must convince his troops that retreat is the best option until they are able to find a proper location to attack the Mexican Army.

By not ending his film with the defeat at the Alamo, and by showing us what happened next, director Hancock makes this a better movie than it might have been otherwise. Not only is the film able to end on a high note, but Hancock does the memory of the Alamo justice by showing what the sacrifice meant to the war against Mexico and how it lead to Texas becoming free from Mexican control and…eventually…part of the United States.

By humanizing history, The Alamo gives us a brief glimpse of what it might have been like for those men who knew that they were standing at death's doorstep long ago in San Antonio. Moving and well-acted, I won't be forgetting The Alamo, and you should pay it a visit as well.

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