As I sat and watched this movie on a rainy afternoon, I thought I was experiencing déjà vu. Was this a new movie or "Braveheart 1776"? This film, which has many comparisons to "Braveheart" for several reasons, among them the lead character being portray ed by Mel Gibson who is fighting for freedom and principals against the British. Gibson is Benjamin Martin, a widowed father of seven who has taken a pacifist stance on the Revolutionary War, mainly because he had committed so much carnage and destruction during the French and Indian War, of which he became a legend and still haunts him. Martin reluctantly becomes involved in the war effort after Redcoats, led by the savage Col. Tavington (Jason Isaacs), kill his second oldest son, Thomas (Gregory Smith ) while arresting his eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger, A Knight's Tale) for treason, and just to be a real bastard, burns the family home for harboring the enemy.
Martin goes into a rage and is bent on revenge and reverts to his to his legendary persona and goes medieval on the British to free Gabriel and settle the score. The passion in which he hacks a dozen or so Brits scares one son and stirs another. Shortly afterwards, he accepts a commission to lead a guerilla-type militia in a series of brutal ambushes. He is nicknamed "the ghost" and a full-scale campaign to capture him is waged by the British. General Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) then orders Tavington, whom he had admonished earlier for being ruthless in his battle tactics, to ignore the gentlemanly rules of engagement to bring Martin down, in exchange for the territory of Ohio. The story then becomes a personal tug of war between Tavington and Martin, and most of the movie from that point on builds up to their final confrontation.
The movie goes at a pretty brisk pace and there is lots of action and a good bit of drama but there are a few things that are a little weak. For one, the storyline and the subsequent ending were very predictable. Several characters make compulsory, yet impassioned speeches, which added nothing to the movie but running time. Things get incestuously icky with when Martin gets cozy with Charlotte (the buxom Joely Richardson) the sister of his deceased wife (who probably died from giving birth too much) eventhough he's still mourning his wife's death. Gibson appeared as if he was trying to carry the entire movie himself and gave very little leeway to the supporting cast. Tcheky Karyo gives a noteworthy performance as French liaison Jean Villenueve, who coolly works beside Martin, despite knowing what he did to his countrymen years earlier. However, the best performance in this film has to be Jason Isaacs who plays the role as the icy and despicable Col. Tavington to the letter. His villainy can be compared to that of a Bond bad guy. Although the initially movie gives the impression that it is a historical piece, it really turns out to be a revenge story set in the 18th century. At 158 minutes the movie was just a tad too long and parts of it became rather thin. Even some of the clothing choices were a bit poor, such as Cornwallis wearing a floral print robe or some of the women wearing lightly colored sleeveless dresses while standing next to other ladies wearing long-sleeved dark ones.
Ironically within the film's theme of freedom, the issue of slavery is visited in a rather odd manner. You have the slave Occam (Jay Arlen Jones: Life), who took up arms in exchange for freedom, and while counting down the months before he's freed, saves a racist fellow soldier's life, and then stays on after his emancipation to fight on. Strange, as he is fighting for freedom, but of course we all know after the movie ended that slavery became legal in the new country. In fact, neither Martin nor his family doesn't seem to own any slaves; everyone seems to happily work voluntarily, and are treated quite well despite the fact that this is colonial South Carolina. (Political correctness at the sake of historical accuracy). Not that I wanted to see my ancestors being whipped on screen, mind you.
Still, despite it's numerous flaws and marathon length, this is still a good movie to watch. You get a mixture of Mad Max, Ransom, Braveheart, and Gladiator all in one, except the hero lives through this one.
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: C+
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:
A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40)
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV
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