The Patriot Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 2 DVD release of The Patriot

It comes as no surprise that The Patriot was directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin – the two men responsible for such ‘greats’ as Independence Day and Godzilla! Combine these two with the English-bashing expert that is Mel Gibson, it was pretty obvioust that reality would come a very distant second to the action of the film itself.

The Patriot follows in the same vein as Braveheart – imagine moving the whole film to another country and place Mel Gibson in charge of some American colonials instead of a band of not-so-merry Scots and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. There’s little doubt that the American War of Independence was a very brutal conflict – the American colonials were fighting for independence whereas the English Crown obviously didn’t want to loose its grip on what was going to be one of the richest lands on Earth.

In the year that saw U571 rewrite a chunk of the Second World War, it doesn’t come as much of a shock to discover that here we have a very one-sided story which makes the English Redcoats the black-and-white villians. There are hints that some of the English didn’t like some of their orders, but for the most part they were portrayed as being unthinking savages who claimed to act like gentlemen. It’s also interesting to see that the past actions of Benjamin Martin (Gibson) are so conveniently glossed over – yes we get to find out that he was involved in a particularly bloody encounter, but that’s it. Of course the real-life events were a much more complex affair so it would have been close-to-impossible to transfer them accurately to the big screen – it’s just the end result borders on the insulting at times.

Benjamin Martin is a former war hero, but following his turbulent past he has decided to settle down as a farmer and to raise his family. When the American colonies decide to fight for their independence, Martin decides to stay back an protect his family but unfortunately the war comes to him and when his second-eldest son is killed by the English Colonel Tavington (Isaacs) he decides to fight back to avenge his child’s death.

Building up a militia, Martin starts to systematically take on the English armies in unconventional means – ie, not on the open battle field. As with all of these big blockbuster movies, the battle comes down to just two people – in this case, Martin and Tavington and the core theme running through the film is one of revenge.

Mel Gibson plays the part pretty much as expected – he’s William Wallace once again only this time with a different accent and no colourful make-up! Much of the actions and character-traits exhibited here are taken direct from his earlier hit. It’s effective, but we’ve seen him pull of the same role before and it would have been nice to see a more rounded character this time around.

Jason Isaacs does an adequate job making Tavington the bad guy – while the man was undoubtedly a nasty piece of work, he’s portrayed here as a cardboard cutout villian with no feelings of his own. Compared to say Joaquin Pheonix’s perfomance as Commodus in Gladiator, Isaac’s portrayal of Tavington seems a little shallow. This is more than likely down to the original script and story – and it’s a great shame as I’m sure that given the opportunity Isaacs would have been more than capable of creating a much more three-dimensional character.

A weakness of the film is the reliance of old-fashioned clichés – there are so many here that there’s little point in going into them in detail. The token black man wanting to be accepted by the white soldiers is the most obvious example – this has no bearing on the story and looks like it’s just been tacked on. It’s irrelevant and totally pointless. In addition, Emmerich’s directorial approach could never be described as subtle – he obviously doesn’t credit his audience as having very much intelligence. It’s also very interesting to see just how patriotic the man is – I’ve not seen any other director produce so much pro-American material and this is even more confusing given that he’s actually German!

If you go into this film expecting a thought-provoking historically accurate portrayal of the events of the war of independence then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you go in expecting a large-scale Hollywood blockbuster with a cast to match then you may just be satisfied – this isn’t a very good example, but it’s one of the better attempts this year.

The DVD is technically flawless – the transfer is presented anamorphically in the original 2.35:1 ratio. There is no sign of print damage and the colors and definition are as accurate as is possible with the DVD format – in other words, perfect. This is up there amongst the best transfers I’ve seen – it falls a little short of Gladiator and Chicken Run, but for the most part I can’t fault it.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also outstanding with almost excessive use made of the five main channels and plenty of low-frequency action during the battle sequences. A DTS option would have been nice considering how good the DTS soundtrack on Gladiator sounded, but we haven’t got one and neither has Region 1 so there’s no need to complain.

I have yet to listen to the commentary track in its entirety – however, what I have listened to does cover what we’ve come to expect from a good informative discussion. Both Emmerich and Devlin come across as people who care about the films they produce (even if the end result doesn’t immediately give this away). There are some revealing bits and bobs to keep things interesting along the way.

There are four featurettes – two of which (The Art of War and The True Patriots) are the standard fare you come to expect. Lots of interviews, some behind-the-scenes footage and a lot of congratulatory back-slapping. The Visual Effects featurette is well presented and is split into five sections – each covering a different effect from the film. Each section features clips from the various stages of the effects process with an audio commentary to explain what you see on the screen. The Conceptual Art to Film comparison is much like a story-board and allows you to directly compare the original vision to the final filmed outcome.

There are seven deleted scenes with an audio commentary explaining why they were removed from the final cut. We have two trailers – the teaser and a over-dubbed international trailer. There are a few pages of photo-galleries including promotional shots and some behind-the-scenes stills and finally there are the usual talent files…

There’s quite a lot to work through and considering the total length of the film, it’s surprising that Columbia have managed to squeeze so much on. It’s an impressive disc – no doubt about that…

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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