Wednesday, July 04, 2012
Defending The Patriot
assignment about patriotic pop culture ("What movie, TV show, comic book, etc. makes you want to stand up and salute Old Glory? "), but if I had, I would've written about The Patriot. Today seems like a good day to catch up.
It's not cool to like The Patriot, especially these days after the Fall of Mel Gibson, but even back in the day it had a bad reputation as the American Braveheart. That's not fair.
I understand re-assessing Mel Gibson movies in light of his off-screen activities; I'm not going to say that people shouldn't do that. My problem is with faulting The Patriot for having a superficially similar theme to Braveheart. That's a shallow reason not to like a movie, especially when it has so much going for it.
I'm not going to defend Gibson's personal actions or statements, but there's no denying that the man can act and he brings it in The Patriot. I never related to Braveheart (I'm more of a Rob Roy man), but The Patriot goes into some themes that resonate with me in a powerful way. It's not just about revolution and fighting for what you believe in, it's about protecting your family and the sacrifices you have to make to do that.
Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin is deeply conflicted. He hates how England is treating the Colonies, but isn't willing to put his family in danger to support a revolt. As someone who never had to sacrifice anything for my privileges as a US citizen, I can relate to that. I can't think of anything that would make me sacrifice my family's security. What's amazing about Martin's experience is how it flips that protectiveness around and turns it into a reason to stay away from his family and join the revolution. Gibson struggles with his decisions in a powerful, relateable way, so by the time he's fully invested in the war, so am I. The Patriot helps me relate to grand themes like oppression and freedom by connecting them to something as simple and primal as love of family. It's a pretty obvious trick - and I can see why some are resistant to being manipulated that way - but even though I'm not easily roused by patriotic themes,it works on me.
The rest of the cast is as good as Gibson. Playing Martin's oldest son was the breakout role for Heath Ledger (10 Things I Hate About You was the only thing anyone had seen him in up to then) and Jason Isaacs grabbed more attention than ever by being the most deliciously evil villain since Alan Rickman in Die Hard. The kids are all good (Skye McCole Bartusiak has an especially memorable moment as Martin's youngest daughter) and Joely Richardson is an inspiring heroine who holds the family together while Martin protects them in the war. Think I'm going to go watch it again right now.