The Patriot is a total load of horseshit, but I liked it. Actually, I think that’s why I liked it. Normally, I’m not one for Ye Olde Hiftorical Adventuref. To me, history is way too complicated and unwieldy to be effectively packaged into movie length. Life just doesn’t behave like a movie. Significant events don’t all happen within five minutes of each other, plot strands get left dangling, and satisfying endings are hard to come by. Pretty much every movie that purports to be historical is just as full of shit as The Patriot, but at least The Patriot isn’t ashamed of it. It just trots out every single cliché in the Screenwriting 101 textbook and acts like it invented them. This is what I’ve been talking about in my last few reviews: There’s nothing ironic about The Patriot,which makes it a million times funnier than a movie that tries to be in on the joke. I don’t want you in the on the joke, movie. If you are, how am I supposed to mock you?
The Patriot opens with a shot of its star: Mel Gibson’s badass tomahawk. This flick has more concentrated tomahawking than any other movie in history, so it’s got that going for it. Then we meet the tomahawk’s co-star, Mel himself. He’s playing this ex-soldier who won the French-and-Indian War single-handedly by chopping motherfuckers’ heads off and cutting their eyes out and mailing them home to their mamas. Now he just wants to pull a Mr. Majestyk (the Charles Bronson character, not the devastatingly handsome B-movie bloggist) and leave the killing behind so he can live a quiet life on his farm, raising his seven kids and pretending that he doesn’t want to get biblical with the surprisingly age-appropriate sister of his saintly dead wife.
Speaking of which, you ever notice how many movies Mel is in where he’s a widower? Just off the top of my head, I can think of six. And that’s not even counting sequels. And the funny thing is, Mel has been married for like a million years. So either he can’t think of anything scarier and more dramatic than losing the love of his life, or he desperately wants to kill the bitch. Could go either way. You really can’t tell with Mel.
Shit, we’re gonna have to talk about Mel, aren’t we? Look, man, I have a certain amount of respect for his complete lack of giving any kind of fuck about what anybody else thinks, but I’m not going to apologize for his views. I’m not sure I even know what his views are. Sure, the evidence seems to point to him really having some issues with the Jews, but am I the only one who saw him get married by a rabbi in Lethal Weapon 4? That’s gotta count for something. Either way, I grew up on Mel’s movies. I probably know the script to Lethal Weapon by heart. So I kind of think of him like a racist uncle: I hate the illness, not the man. All I can do is hope that he pulls his shit together so he can focus on making badass movies where various Christ surrogates (and occasionally the man Himself) bleed all over the screen before going on a rip-roaring rampage of righteous revenge. (That happened at the end of Passion of the Christ, right? I only saw it once and I was pretty high.)
(Ed. note: This was obviously written before Mel's meltdown.)
Anyway, so Mel’s eldest son the Joker wants to join the Revolutionary Army so he can fight for freedom, duty-free tea, etc. Mel just wants to stay home and make crappy chairs that break when he sits on them. This is a Mel staple: He begins all of his historical adventures with some slapstick comedy before getting into the atrocities. I know Mel didn’t write or direct this thing, but it’s got his hairy knuckleprints all over it. I can’t fault the strategy, though. Most historical movies make their characters so austere and noble that we can’t relate to them, but Mel knows that people falling down and/or farting was just as funny in the past as it is now. That’s universal. It’s what makes us all human, so that when his characters start getting slaughtered in their dozens, we actually feel bad about it. Like in Apocalypto, we’re like, “Oh man,one minute that guy was being tricked into eating wild boar balls, and now he’s getting his decapitated head bounced down a Mayan pyramid. That could happen to me.”
Also, what’s up with Mel’s main characters always building furniture? I can’t be the only one who feels that the infamous “Jesus invents the table” scene was the heart and soul of The Passion.
And speaking of atrocities, The Patriot really ladles them on thick. Most movies just have one inciting event that makes the audience lust for the villain’s blood, but The Patriot has like twelve. Every 20 minutes, the British slaughter some more innocents, and you’re like, “Okay, movie, I get it. The Brits are assholes. You don’t have to keep convincing me. I am perfectly cool with you murdering the bastards. You had me at ‘They shot my 15-year-old son in cold blood.’”
So yeah, that happens, so Mel calls up his old buddy Thomas Aaron Hawk and gets his two younger sons to snipe some redcoats while he gets all up-close-and-personal on their limey asses. This is hands-down the best scene in the movie. When he goes blood simple with rage and grief and hacks up some random English infantryman into McNugget-sized pieces with the blood splattering all over his face like a P.A. on the set of Dead Alive, I once again lamented that Mel never got the chance to play Wolverine. Not only is he squat and hairy, but the man does berserker rage like no one else. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s completely insane. Or Australian. Whichever.
Then the movie plays out almost exactly as you’d expect. The black soldier earns the respect of his racist compatriot by saving his life, a sentimental gift spells certain doom for the character who receives it, and everyone has a dead loved one to avenge. Some have several. That’s sort of the movie’s genius: It turns the American colonies’ battle for independence and democracy into a Death Wish movie. It makes the whole affair much more personal, especially since all the atrocities get carried out by this one prick, a brutal British officer with cold blue eyes and a WWF haircut.
That’s why I question the title. Sure, at the end, he starts leading the charge against the redcoats and waving Old Glory (Just called “Glory” at the time) and making the guy who wrote the score have a fucking embolism with the swirling violins and triumphant trumpets. But really, he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about patriotism. He just doesn’t want you killing his kids. The movie really should have been called The Tomahawker. Or, if you want to be subtle, The Chairist. If it had been called either of those, I probably wouldn’t have waited nine years to see it.