teenager. Screenwriter Robert Rodat andrndirector Roland Emmerich have createdrnas honest a vision of war as one can imaginern— its wild mix of horror, stupidity, andrngrandeur—at least in the early scenes.rnThe film’s impressive attention to periodrndetail is more than merely picturesque.rnTake Emmerich’s decision tornilluminate his interiors with 18th-centuryrncandlelight. This enables him to presentrnMel Gibsorr’s character, Benjamin Martin,rnas a middle-aged man emerging fromrnthe shadows of his troubled, warriorrnvouth. When he comes upon his son tryingrnon the uniform he himself wore inrnthe Erench and hidian Wars, he watches,rnunnoticed, from the darkened hallway.rnMartin’s expression is barely visible as thernboy admires his reflection in a mirror.rnHis shadowed presence, however, eloqucntlvrnconveys his disapproval of hisrnson’s military enthusiasm. This simplerncomposifion of shade and light creates anrnintensely disquieting moment. It’s one ofrnmany similarly arresting scenes.rnMarfin is a fictional character looselyrnbased on the historical Erancis Marion,rnknown as the “Swamp Eox” for his uncannyrnabilit)’ to carry out deadly sortiesrnon the Redcoats and then fade into thernCarolina swamps. According to some biographers,rnhowever, this hero was lessrnthan virtuous: He supposedly hunted Indiansrnfor sport and took his pleasure withrnslave women (with or without their consent).rnEmmerich has chosen to scrubrnav’ay some of this grime. His Martin isrnmore chastened than vicious, as thernfilm’s opening voice-over reveals: “I havernlong feared my sins would come back tornhaunt me.” Much later, while explainingrnto his son his distaste for war, he confessesrnthese sins. As a soldier in thernl*”rench and Indian Wars, he participatedrnin various atrocities, often while drunk.rnOn one occasion, he and his men caughtrnup with some Indians who were knownrnto have slaughtered colonial women andrnchildren. To pay them back, Martiir hadrnthem butchered alive as slowly as possible;rnhe can still hear their screams, herntells his son. This is why he is reluctant tornjoin the continental army in its battlernagainst the British. As a widower withrnseven children, he has decided it’s best torntend to one’s own garden in a world alwaysrnon flie edge of savager)-. Moreover,rnhe’s not even sure he’s sympathetic to thernrcvolutionar)-cause. “Why should I traderna t)Tant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrantsrnone mile away?” he asks, reasonablyrnenough.rnBut his hand is forced when Britishrntroops invade his estate. At first, Martinrndoes all he can to placate them, but whenrnthey discover that one of his sons is a continentalrnsoldier, their sadistic ColonelrnTavington orders the boy to be hanged.rnAs Martin begs for the boy’s life, one ofrnhis other sons rushes to his brother’s aid,rnand Tavington shoots the 14-year-oldrndead. These opening scenes make forrncompelling and instructive melodrama:rnA man dedicated to peace finds he has nornchoice but to take up arms against t)’rannicalrnoutrage. This Martin does in guerrillarnfashion, tracking down the detail ofrnredcoats whom Tavington has ordered torncarr’ out the hanging. He brings two ofrnhis younger sons, one nine, the other 11,rnequipping each with rifles. He and hisrnboys ambush the detail, killing them allrnand rescuing his oldest child. In the process,rnhowever, Martin’s youthful bloodlustrnis unleashed again. In a profoundlyrnunsettling scene, he catches up with thernlast soldier alive. Although the man hasrnbeen badly wounded and is no longer arnthreat, Martin lays into him with hisrnhatchet, butchering him before his sons’rnunbelieving eyes. He emerges bathed inrnblood from head to toe, baptized inrnvengeance and hate once more. As understandablernas his rage is, it’s still terrif)’-rning to behold.rnAt this point, the film seems promisinglyrncomplicated. It opens the door onrnsome issues we all need to keep in mindrnas citizens who may be called upon to defendrnourselves, whether individually orrncollectively. The first half of the film acknowledgesrnthe legitimacy of violentrnmeans in extreme cases without glossingrnthe moral ambigiuties inherent in suchrnmeans. In fighting our enemies, how dornwe prevent ourselves from mirroringrnwhat’s worst in them? Murdering othersrnis rarely a morally unequivocal matter.rnInstead of exploring these complications,rnhowever, the film settles into a shallowrnrevenge drama. Tavington becomesrnthe monstrous villain and Martin, despiternhis sullied past, the saintly hero. By thernmovie’s end, we might as well be watchingrna Hopalong Cassidy episode. On arnbattlefield of thousands, Martin andrnTavington unerringly locate each otherrnfor a final showdown. Although thernchaos of war howls about their ears —rnblizzards of musket shot, exploding cannonballs,rnflailing horses—they somehowrnfind a clearing in which to fight inrnexquisitely choreographed slow motion.rnThis heroic hogwash didn’t play well inrnMission: Impossible 2; here, in a story thatrnpretends to be historically based and psychologicallyrnnuanced, it’s embarrassing.rnAnother issue raised and disappointinglyrndropped is Tavington’s background.rnHis soul has been curdled by thernBritish class system. Born into the aristocracy,rnhe nevertheless finds himselfrnwithout social position: His profligate fatherrnexhausted the family fortune. Hernhas come to the colonies, not out of loyaltyrnto England, but to replace his lost fortune.rnHis twisted mind and ruthlessrnmethods reflect his embittered past. Tornrestore his social status, he will stop atrnnothing, even the burning of a churehfulrnof trapped colonists. (Here, as elsewhere,rnthe film flouts history. Tavington’s general,rnCornwallis —perfectly played byrnconsummate character actor TomrnWilkinson — would have certainlyrnclapped him in irons for committingrnsuch an atrocity. After all, the Britishrnwere at war with their own colonials,rnmany of whom had no interest in separatingrnfrom the mother countr)’.)rnTavington’s warped character is one ofrnseveral traces of what seems to have beenrna far more interesting narrative in thernoriginal script than the one that made itrnto flie screen. Martin and Tavington arerncuriously alike: Both arc capable of enormousrnviolence. Martin, however, hasrnchosen to tame his aggressive instincts;rnTavington has not. If Tavington hasrnbeen morally stunted by a hierarchicalrnciflture that st}mies his ambition at everyrnturn, are we then to infer that Martin hasrnbeen humanized by a societ)- that has allowedrnhim to rise in the world throughrnhis own efforts, acquiring property, a lovingrnwife, and seven devoted children? Ifrnthis inverted mirroring was the script’s intentionrn—and I’m guessing—then it wasrnundermined in favor of celebrating Gibsonrnas the man who singlehandedly wonrnour independence. Thank you, Mel.rnIrr the end, ‘ihe Patriot disappoints byrndoing so much well and then betrayingrnits own best instincts. Still, despite itsrnmissed opportunities and comic-bookrnending, it moves you with its faithfulnessrnto the look and feel of 18th-centuryrnAmerica. crnM O V I N G ?rnSend change of address and thernmailing label from your kitest issue to:rnCHRONICLES Subscription Dept.rnP.O. Box 8()(), Mount Morris, IL 61054rnOCTOBER 2000/55rnrnrn