by Paige Lurie
Troupes. We love them. We hate them. We love to hate them. And The Patriot is full of them. While, as Mark will surely tell us, this movie was not historically accurate, that does not mean the movie is original. From the very beginning we can correctly foresee the beats of the movie. The plot can be revealed by explaining the troupes that appear.
The first troupe introduced in the film is a widower struggling to be a father to a large family. Seven Years War hero Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is stoic and unwillingly to talk about his past or his late wife. He focuses on how to provide the necessities for his horde of children rather than emotional support. From this, we know, by the end of the movie he will display great feats of love for his children as a protagonist must overcome this first revealed flaw. His ability to share his emotions does not mean he is not able to care for his children – rather he is haunted by his own hideous past. At the apex of events, his second son Thomas (Gregory Smith) is shot and killed in cold blood saving the life of his oldest brother Gabreil (Heath Ledger) by British soldiers. The horrific death serves as the catalyst for Martin’s joining the war he previously avoided. To further fulfill this troupe, Martin uses Thomas’s toy soldiers to make bullets (hence turning the death of innocence into literal weapons of war), and his drafting of Gabriel onto his own militia. He fights for his children despite not having much of a standing relationship with them because children matter beyond ideals. We see variations of this throughout film history: Captain Von Trappe in The Sound of Music or Ted Kramer in Kramer vs Kramer both start as hard single fathers that don’t understand their children – but by the end display the strength of love. Benjamin Martin fits with these fathers in an eye-rolling rendition of the troupe as he is not with his children to facilitate the character growth.
The second troupe appearing in The Patriot is the idea of love against the odds. Both Gabriel and Benjamin Martin fulfill this troupe. Gabriel marries a childhood crush, gifting her with his mother’s necklace upon the wedding. However, in our very first introduction to this love interest she simply brings up his childhood pranks upon her. (She later recreates this in their courtship to let us know GOOD things can happen during war too. We can have moments of humor when we exit the battlefield). The climatic battle of the movie happens only because of the mass murder of her entire village. Gabriel and his militia were fighting for love as much as freedom. Additionally, Benjamin Martin flirts on and off with his late wife’s sister, Charlotte (Joely Richardson). While their love story isn’t as grand and obvious, it is still predictable that by the end of the movie they will not only be married, but have a new child (the starting anew after war). This additional minor arc serves only the symbolic purposes their marriage creates but adds nothing to the story in and of itself. Romeo and Juliet are the most obvious rendition of this troupe, but we see it more recently in movies such as Ghost (when not even death can separate true love), While You Were Sleeping (when a relationship started with a lie) and Brokeback Mountain (come together despite homophobia) The odds in this case are considerably lower – the separation of war is far more common than death or a coma – but the familiarity allows easy access to viewers to add a love story or two to this war film.
While I could keep going endlessly, I will only bring up one more troupe. And that is a villain who is evil without fault. Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs) is a British officer, who upon first introduction: kills all injured Revolutionary soldiers, burns down a family’s house, illegally takes a prisoner of war to kill, and kidnaps free blacks for his cause. He is despicable and without honor. As an audience we love to hate him. As the film progresses his acts of historically inaccurate war crimes escalate in magnitude allowing us to cheer his death. While the previous troupes allowed us to cheer on Mel Gibson, this allows us to justify his actions. Very quickly, we stop watching a war movie and start watching a movie of revenge and personal vendettas. Tavington ranks up there with villains such as Darth Vader, Voldemort, and the Joker – names that are synonymous with evil. His actions seem to be devoid of internal logic and are only used to serve the plot and Martin’s heroism.
At times, this movie was fun. The battle scenes are large and have all the outrage audiences love to see. The lofty goals of revolution struck a chord with our modern struggle to live up to American ideals. John Williams’ music was as brilliant as expected and fills its role of adding emotion without becoming overpowering. Jason Isaacs makes an excellent villain. The sets and costumes fit the period adding realism to a fairly ridiculous story. If it was a movie about a fictional war, it would be a fine watch. However, the movie’s historic inaccuracies are distracting – way too numerous for Mark to cover in his review. And the rest of the movie is full of unoriginal cliches. This is not a movie that deserves a second watch nor is it particularly memorable. But for a rainy day, it was a fun two hours.