“The Patriot” – A Lost Opportunity

Early in 2000, the Smithsonian Museum of American History announced… it would assist in the production of an epic film about the American Revolution starring Mel Gibson.  Historians, history buffs, and living historians were further enticed by the original script detailing the exploits of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.  Disappointment with “The Patriot” started early, as producers ordered a substantial rewrite of the script after researching the complex life of Marion.  Apparently, a slave-owning Indian fighter cannot be heroic in a major Hollywood production.  Gibson instead portrays an anachronism- a South Carolina plantation owner who allows free blacks to work his land; a rebel torn between his family and the American cause. The depictions of slavery in the film are at best, idealistic, and at worst, woefully inadequate. Slavery did not cause the American Revolution, as purported in the 1619 Project but viewers deserve a more realistic depiction, even in a work of historical fiction.

c. IMDB

It’s as if a group of impressionable, idealistic college sophomores… sat down and scripted the American Revolution “as it should have been.”  Young women stand up and chastise their elders in town meetings, slaves struggle for freedom in the deepest parts of South Carolina, and the evil imperialist British forces commit mass murder similar to the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre of 1944.  This is an utterly ridiculous assertion made, rather ironically, by a German filmmaker. Had such an atrocity taken place, it would be seared into our national fabric.

There’s plenty of speechifying, Gibson’s slow boiling, hunky Heath Ledger, and adorable children- but the film is woefully short on history.  Couldn’t the Smithsonian have advised on more than just costuming?  Gibson’s rage is incapable of overwhelming such a careless script  (the same script that compares British soldiers to Nazis.)  The Hollywood community doesn’t have the courage to make a film about the complexities of American history.  We are either preached to with politically correct drivel like “Dances with Wolves,” or insulted with comic-book nonsense like this monstrosity.

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