The Patriot

USA/Germany 2000

Reviewed by Philip Strick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

South Carolina, 1776. As the 13 colonies of North America prepare to fight for independence from the British, plantation-owner Benjamin Martin refuses to become involved. His eldest boy Gabriel, however, joins the Continental Army; Benjamin's friend, Colonel Harry Burwell, promises to keep Gabriel out of harm's way. But when the war reaches Charleston, Gabriel comes home wounded. His brother Thomas tries to protect him and is shot dead by Colonel Tavington, commander of the Green Dragoons.

Helped by his two youngest boys, Benjamin slaughters the British soldiers holding Gabriel prisoner, and releases his son. Leaving his children with his sister-in-law Charlotte, he joins Gabriel and witnesses the disastrous Battle of Camden before being appointed by Burwell to head a regiment of militia. Tavington captures a number of Benjamin's men; Benjamin tricks General Cornwallis, head of the British forces, into releasing them. Furious, Cornwallis authorises Tavington to use any means to crush the colonials. Tavington herds the villagers of Pembroke into their church and burns it down. Among the victims is Gabriel's young bride, Anne.

Gabriel pursues Tavington, who kills him. Benjamin considers abandoning the struggle but returns to the militia and leads them into battle at Cowpens where the British forces fall into his trap. In the thick of the fighting Benjamin and Tavington confront each other: Benjamin is narrowly the survivor. Cornwallis orders retreat and surrenders to the French at Yorktown in 1781, while Benjamin and the children plan a new life with Charlotte.


With his goofy charm and collapsing home-made rocking-chairs, the hero of The Patriot is of much the same calibre as director Roland Emmerich's previous reluctant adventurers - the travel-sick computer virologist of Independence Day, say, or the worm specialist of Godzilla. Launched against a sea of troubles, these forlorn lateral thinkers, astonishingly resourceful in an emergency, suffer romantic deficiencies that can only be resolved after extreme crisis. The crisis itself, seldom involving anything less than planetary destruction, can be occasioned by swarms of dinosaurs or flying saucers. In the case of The Patriot, it's an infestation of British soldiers.

There has been much indignation over the way these invaders behave, but in fact their Britishness is largely irrelevant. A near-faceless mass, they do and die as instructed while their leaders conform to other Emmerich scapegoats - such as the Mayor of New York in Godzilla or the President's bureaucrats in Independence Day - driven by good old-fashioned causes like career-advancement, discipline and survival. In The Patriot General Cornwallis, who heads the British forces, is inclined towards leniency and is more concerned about protecting his memoirs than about the rustics who oppose him. The true villain of the piece, cavalry commander Tavington, reliably child-killing, church-burning, and repeatedly returning from the dead, is in reality Emmerich's latest Universal Soldier, a stateless militarist, unchangingly evil throughout. He is too ludicrous an opponent to personify anything but warfare in general, a global insanity.

His antecedents, as it happens, have helped to define almost the entire career of Mel Gibson, who has been taking arms against sneering wrongdoers since the days of Mad Max, a crusade incorporating the paranoia of Hamlet, Ransom, Conspiracy Theory, and particularly closely his own Braveheart. Cutting through the enemy ranks at full slow-motion stride, Gibson's colonialist has a familiar wildness bordering on parody, his dementia little different from that of the beyond-control cop of the Lethal Weapon series. And since Emmerich as far back as his 1989 science-fiction film Moon 44 has been a blatant plagiarist, The Patriot not only exploits the Gibson image but also packs itself with the habitual predicaments of Western classics, a good chunk of Shenandoah (1965) intermingled with Clint Eastwood's 1976 The Outlaw Josey Wales (both set during the Civil War), a headlong rush through the woods courtesy of The Last of the Mohicans, and a sunset graveyard and battling preacher courtesy of John Ford.

This said, Emmerich also makes a virtue of the unexpected, his films setting frequent ambush for his audience. Here, his virile hero turns anti-hero by refusing to fight, only to become in turn a killer so terrible that members of his own family are dumbfounded. There is the business of the bullet, specially prepared as if to destroy a vampire, that simply misses its mark, and of the tomahawk that vanishes ineffectually into the scrum of battle. And reversal plays a crucial role in the final conflict, both for the two duellists at its heart and for the armies that surround them, struggling to contend with a retreat that isn't, then is, then isn't...

The main irony, of course, lies in the film's title, which suggests that the absurdly flag-waving activist should be taken at face value despite the ample evidence that defending his country is the last thing on his mind. Robert Rodat's script, echoing his argument in Saving Private Ryan, proposes that patriotism entails a lethal interruption to more important matters. His script, appealingly written despite a glib approach to the slavery issue, also finds room for Emmerich's trademark Frenchman - Tchéky Karyo's militia member Villeneuve is both an action man and a figure of fun (see Jean Réno's Roaché in Godzilla) - and remind us that the War of Independence was actually won by the French fleet, for whom patriotism would have had a rather different significance. The film's main attraction, the spectacular battle scenes, finds Emmerich at both his best and his worst (the cannonball fired straight at the audience is a cheap trick), but the appallingly detailed carnage exhaustively follows the unwritten rule of epics that they should appear to last twice as long as the original events.


Roland Emmerich
Dean Devlin
Mark Gordon
Gary Levinsohn
Robert Rodat
Director of Photography
Caleb Deschanel
David Brenner
Production Designer
Kirk M. Petruccelli
John Williams
©Global Entertainment Productions GmbH & Co. Movie KG
Production Companies
Columbia Pictures presents a Mutual Film Company production/a Centropolis Entertainment production
Executive Producers
William Fay
Ute Emmerich
Roland Emmerich
Peter Winther
Associate Producers
Dionne McNeff
Michael Dahan
Production Supervisor
Mary Weisgerber
Production Co-ordinators
Justine M. Hebron
2nd Unit:
Taylor Ammons
Logistics Co-ordinator
Katrina Elder
Reenactor Co-ordinator
Riley Flynn
Unit Production Manager
James R. Dyer
Key Location Manager
Mary Morgan-Kerlagon
Location Managers
Cynthia Hobgood
Linda Lee
Patricia Fay
Centropolis Post-production Supervisor
James K. Jensen
2nd Unit Director
Peter Winther
Assistant Directors
Kim Winther
Lars P. Winther
Michael Risoli
Michael G. Jefferson
Peter J. Dowd Jr
2nd Unit:
Paul F. Bernard
Robert C. Albertell
Gregory G. Hale
Script Supervisors
Kim E. Berner
2nd Unit:
Suzette Gaconnier
April Webster
David Bloch
Elizabeth Greenberg
Fincannon & Associates
ADR Voice:
L.A. MadDogs
2nd Unit Directors of Photography
Ueli Steiger
Mark Vargo
Camera Operators
P. Scott Sakamoto
Dustin G. Blauvelt
Gabor Kover
Camera Operators/ Steadicam
2nd Unit:
Dan R. Kneece
Harry Garvin
Visual Effects Supervisor
Stuart Robertson
Visual Effects Producer
Fiona Stone
Visual Effects Editor
Brigitte Daloin
Visual Effects Co-ordinator
Glenn R. Karpf
Visual Effects Data Wranglers
Bobby Blue
Erik Murphy
Catharyn E. Sohm
Motion Control Operator
Chris Dawson
Digital Matte Painter
Michael Lloyd
Visual Effects Services
Centropolis Effects
Mechanical Effects
Yves de Bono
John Herzberger
Ron Colucci
Phil Fravel
Ken Gorrell
Mark Griffin
Chuck Hessey
David Hill
Richard Jones
Thomas Kittle
Robert W. Rieker
Russell Tyrrell
Mark Williams
Derek Fields
Effective GmbH
Miniature Effects Unit
3-D Tracking for Miniature Shoot
Das Werk GmbH
Julie Monroe
Art Director
Barry Chusid
Set Designers
Randy Wilkins
Chad S. Frey
Greg Papalia
Noelle King
Sloane U'ren
Clare Scarpulla
Set Decorator
Victor J. Zolfo
Warren Manser
James Oxford
Storyboard Artists
Timothy Burgard
Raymond W. Harvie
Costume Designer
Deborah L. Scott
Costume Supervisors
Paul H. Lopez
Mitchell Kenney
Diane Crooke
Department Head:
Thomas Nellen
Key Artist:
Wendy Bell
Anita E. Brabec
Kristin Ryals
Leigh Ann Yandle
Crowd Supervisor:
Shannon N. McCurley
2nd Unit, Artist:
Darwin Hensley
Special Effects Make-up Department Head
Bill Johnson
Key Make-up Effects
Leo C. Castellano
Department Head:
Kay Georgiou
Key Stylist:
Kelvin R. Trahan
Patricia McAlhany Glasser
Gina Baran
David Halsey
Joan H. Shay
Mary C. Young
Portia Simpson
Crowd Supervisor:
Deborah R. Ball
2nd Unit, Key Stylist:
Judith H. Bickerton
Titles Design
Melissa Elliott
Cinema Research Corporation
Violin Solos
Mark O'Connor
John Neufeld
Executive in Charge of Music for Centropolis
Peter Afterman
Music Editor
Ken Wannberg
Music Recordist/Mixer
Shawn Murphy
"Boney", "Leanin' on de Lawd Side" - Marquetta L. Goodwine and the Gullah Cunneckshun
Sound Mixers
Lee Orloff
2nd Unit:
Jonathan Gaynor
Re-recording Mixers
Kevin O'Connell
Greg P. Russell
Dan Sharp
Hanson Hsu
Supervising Sound Editor
Per Hallberg
Dialogue Editors
Lauren Stephens
David A. Cohen
Sound Effects Editors
Christopher Assells
Dino R. DiMuro
Dan Hegeman
Randy Kelly
Harry Cohen
Scott Sanders
David Baldwin
Peter Staubli
Supervising Editor:
Chris Jargo
Michelle Perrone
Laura Graham
Michelle Pazer
Gary Hecker
Matt Dettmann
Richard Duarte
Supervising Editor:
Craig Jaeger
Lou Kleinman
Paul Jyrälä
Larry Kemp
Gullah Consultant
Marquetta L. Goodwine
Historical Consultation
Smithsonian Institution
Stunt Co-ordinators
R.A. Rondell
2nd Unit:
Freddy Hice
Harry Lu
Firearms Instructor
Frank House
Boss Wrangler
Rusty Hendrickson
Monty Stuart
Rex Peterson
Benny J. Manning
Kim Burke
James Sherwood
Wagon Boss
Daniel E. Hydrick III
Mel Gibson
Benjamin Martin
Heath Ledger
Gabriel Martin
Joely Richardson
Charlotte Selton
Jason Isaacs
Colonel William Tavington
Chris Cooper
Colonel Harry Burwell
Tchéky Karyo
Jean Villeneuve
René Auberjonois
Reverend Oliver
Lisa Brenner
Anne Howard
Donal Logue
Dan Scott
Leon Rippy
John Billings
Adam Baldwin
loyalist/Captain Wilkins
Gregory Smith
Thomas Martin
Mika Boorem
Margaret Martin
Skye McCole Bartusiak
Susan Martin
Trevor Morgan
Nathan Martin
Joey D. Vieira
Peter Howard
Jay Arlen Jones
Tom Wilkinson
General Cornwallis
Bryan Chafin
Samuel Martin
Logan Lerman
William Martin
Mary Jo Deschanel
Mrs Howard
Jamieson K. Price
Captain Bordon
Peter Woodward
Brigadier General O'Hara
Grahame Wood
Redcoat lieutenant
Beatrice Bush
Shan Omar Huey
Hank Stone
Kirk Fox
Jack Moore
Mark Twogood
Colt Romberger
Terry Layman
General George Washington
Shannon Eubanks
Mrs Simms
Bill Roberson
loyalist Simms
Charles Black
Andy Stahl
General Greene
Kristian Truelsen
Kanin Howell
Mark Jeffrey Miller
wounded continental
Zach Hanner
British field officer
Dara Coleman
Redcoat sergeant 2
Randell Haynes
patriot Middleton
John Storey
Greg Good
cowpens militiamen
John F. Dzencelowcz II
continental soldier
John Curran
Redcoat sergeant 1
Kyle Richard Engels
Billings' son
John Bennes
Roy McCrerey
P. Dion Moore
Tyler Long
page boy
John H. Bush
Gil Johnson
Scott Miles
patriot private
Derrick B. Young
slave boy
Le Roy Seabrook
Gullah minister
Samuel Brown Jr
Samuel Brown Sr
Lillie L. Harris
Braima Moiwai
Gullah musicians
Patrick Tatopoulos
French naval officer
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
14,808 feet
164 minutes 33 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS-8
In Colour
Prints by
2.35:1 [Super 35]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011