While the film may not be historically accurate, it was a good source of fun, summer entertainment when it was released in June 2000. Set in the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, The Patriot offers some good stuff that makes for an enjoyable summer film – action, developed characters, impeccable acting, strong dialogue, and so on – something that is typically not seen in a Roland Emmerich summer blockbuster.
Robert Rodat penned the script for Emmerich to direct. It doesn’t seem the filmmakers were much on making a historically accurate film, as they were to make a Hollywood film based on history. Taking events and battles from the actual war, Rodat places characters (based on actual historical figures) within that world making their existence seem more real, adding the Hollywood touch of a simple hero pitted against a seemingly unbeatable villain.
The Patriot stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin (a character based on several actual characters from the War – Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter), a religious family man trying to put the ugliness of war behind him. He is a widower who has seven children he protects dearly. When the villain, British Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), who is based on Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, arrives with his British soldiers on Martin’s property, kills one of his youngest sons, arrests Martin’s eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) and takes him away, and burns Martin’s house down, this pushes Martin to the one thing he wanted to avoid – going into war himself. He pursues Tavington, with two of his other sons, to free Gabriel. With militia style tactics, Martin succeeds in freeing Gabriel and he is thrust into the war to take vengeance upon Tavington. Martin then helps organize a militia, and with the help from his friend Col. Harry Burwell (Chris Cooper), puts forth strategies to stop Tavington and the British. After a series of incidents where the American militia bests British soldiers, Gen. Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) develops a hatred for these “peasants and farmers” and wants Martin gone too.
Gibson gives an effective, emotional performance, as does Ledger. He was a bright newcomer at the time of the film’s release at 21 years old. Just nearly eight years later, he passed away. He is gone, but not forgotten.
Isaacs plays Tavington straight faced and with conviction. He is virtually emotionless, always with a smirk and evil in his eyes. Wilkinson portrays Cornwallis as somewhat pompous and arrogant, which seems to be Hollywood’s take on the character. This creates another character to dislike and of course root for the hero to win.
Well-choreographed fight and battle scenes, great acting with developed characters, wonderful cinematography, and a musical score to punch the dramatic narrative through the film. It makes for a more satisfactory film than the usual bang, bang, big explosions, and heavy use of special effects.