- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

A publicity flier for "The Patriot" reminds critics that "in 1996, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin roused a patriotic public with 'Independence Day.' "
Perhaps rashly anticipating a similar stranglehold on the movie marketplace during the approaching Fourth of July weekend, the flier adds that "in a world of political correctness, special interests and cultural divisions of all kinds, it's easy to forget that we all share the honor of being Americans; that we all gained freedom from an epic fight; and that at heart, we are all Patriots."
Like the movie itself, this pitch is more than a bit thick. "The Patriot," which is poorly devised to sustain dramatic or historical integrity, begins spinning its wheels very prematurely. It bungles an epic domestic-martial format that begins in 1776 and requires almost three hours to reach a victorious consummation with a brief re-enactment of the Battle of Yorktown.
Mr. Emmerich and Mr. Devlin dust off their specialty from "Independence Day": blowing up beloved dwellings to motivate the heroes to retaliate against the villains. If nothing else, they're incorrigible home wreckers.
The White House was their target four years ago. Fearsome invaders from outer space ostensibly demolished it. Now the pair recruit Mel Gibson to wear out his welcome as a suffering, martyred warrior and father figure while exacting vengeance against invading redcoats who wantonly burn down his South Carolina plantation house and murder one of his sons. This is the first of several "inciting incidents" that the filmmakers keep repeating, with glaring and deflating redundancy.
Mr. Gibson, playing a distinguished citizen named Benjamin Martin who is a celebrated veteran of the French and Indian War and a widowed father of seven (five sons, two daughters), casts a war-weary vote against rebellion in the state legislature. Only British atrocities, attributed to one particular wretch of an officer, Jason Isaacs as the cruel and sneering Col. Tavington, drive him into the bellicose camp.
Motivating the hero in this fashion proves curiously self-defeating because the movie peaks early, when the tormented and enraged Martin goes on an awesomely lethal rampage. You can confidently think you have seen the biggest sensation of the movie when Mr. Gibson pretends to slaughter a detachment of vulnerable redcoats who have taken his eldest son, a rebel courier named Gabriel (Heath Ledger), captive in the aftermath of the plantation outrages. To say that he fights with the strength of 10 men, maybe 20, would not be exaggerating.
However, two hours of downhill and often sanctimonious slogging come after this virtuoso demonstration of Martin's prowess with flintlock and tomahawk. The gravity of the hero's ferocity, witnessed by two of his younger sons, recruited by Martin to harass the British soldiers with sniper fire, is allowed to dissipate.
The filmmakers contrive to trivialize the impact of this big scene. They're soon clowning around with both sides. Tom Wilkinson, as British Gen. Cornwallis, professes to despise the wicked Tavington but can't seem to sack him, lest the script lose its designated meanie. The beleaguered South Carolina militia, now adorned by Mr. Gibson, finds time for jocular cliches and citizenship sermons. The worst is entrusted to Lisa Howard as young Gabriel's shiny, squeaky, expendable fiancee.
Heart-to-heart talks fail to do much for Martin and Gabriel as a father-son team of "founding patriots." Martin stages a careless ambush while harassing the Brits and then deals with Cornwallis in a contemptibly facetious fashion while supposedly negotiating the release of captive militiamen in chucklesome bad faith.
When Joely Richardson as absurdly languishing, unmarried sister-in-law Charlotte belatedly is burned out of her plantation, where the fugitive Martin children are being sheltered, the redundancy problem starts to swamp an already scatterbrained screenplay. Then one of Martin's comrades has his house burned, and his wife and son are butchered. Then a whole church congregation is locked in and burned alive by the merciless Tavington.
Mr. Gibson has gone to the well once too often as a scourge to British armies. "The Patriot" isn't nearly as stirring or soundly dramatized as his Oscar-winning "Braveheart."
Mr. Gibson and Miss Richardson also are obliged to act so duncey as a lovelorn match that their scenes together should prove uproarious to the cynical.

1 and 1/2 stars
TITLE: "The Patriot"
RATING: R (Frequent graphic violence, against a wartime setting, with gruesome illustrative details; fleeting profanity; and sexual allusions)
CREDITS: Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Robert Rodat. Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. Production design by Kirk M. Petruccelli. Costume design by Deborah L. Scott. Stunt supervision by R.A. Rondell. Visual effects supervisor is Stuart Robertson. Editing by David Brenner. Music by John Williams
RUNNING TIME: 158 minutes

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