Trust the guys who couldn't get Godzilla right to take an event of enormous complexity and historical import and reduce it to the advertising tag for the last and least Jaws movie: "This time, it's personal."
The Patriot, which stars Mel Gibson as a South Carolina plantation owner who becomes embroiled in the American Revolution, is the latest film from director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, the manufacturers of the extremely successful Independence Day and the perfectly vile Godzilla, which, contrary to popular belief, was pretty successful.
Cinematic artists But millions of dollars in fees and houses with hot and cold running starlets apparently aren't enough for these guys. They want to be taken seriously. They want to be seen as cinematic artists rather than as guys who, but for the grace of the box office, might be doing second-unit work on Adam Sandler movies.
So they make The Patriot, their idea of a serious movie. Next thing, Matt Stone and Trey Parker will be doing adaptations of Henry James -- which, come to think of it, would probably be better than Merchant-Ivory adaptations of Henry James. But I digress.
Benjamin Martin is a widowed veteran of the French and Indian War who lives in a really big house with six or seven kids, the oldest of whom (Heath Ledger) wants to join the uprising against the Brits.
Benjamin, who knows what war is really like, doesn't want him to go. He does anyway, and then one night he shows up wounded. The Brits, filling much the same role as the aliens in Independence Day, show up to burn the house, steal the horses and execute another of Martin's sons.
Mel/Martin, acting furiously, goes ballistic and turns into some kind of lethal weapon, leading guerrilla bands against the Brits. (The Brits, by the way, in real life have complained mightily about the film being an anti-English tract, claiming that their troops were models of good behaviour during the American Revolution. Try telling that to the Irish.)
Grouchy politician Historical accuracy aside -- it's a Hollywood movie, after all -- what's interesting about The Patriot is its disavowal of the political. Benjamin is initially presented as someone of political importance, not just a large landowner but a member of the South Carolina Assembly. He's one of those grouchy apolitical politicians, and sees the conflict as a chance to trade "one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away."
What convinces him to join up is the Brits' attack on his farm and family, as good a motivation as any. But it seems to me that Emmerich, Devlin and scenarist Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) are unnerved by the idea of a hero impassioned about an idea. Indeed, The Patriot resists any explanation of the American Revolution at all. In a time when ignorance of history is virtually a given, the filmmakers might have given us a line or two on why Americans were at war with the English.
This is, indeed, as touted, a rousing spectacle. It's also overlong, over-emphatic, simplistic and features a Gibson performance that's bound to appeal to those who think a movie star doing a lot of acting is the same as good acting.
While Gibson's climactic confrontation with the villain was being staged, did no one step forward to say, "Am I the only one reminded of Mel's guest spot on The Simpsons?"
A SUMMER OF ESSENTIALS: 36 CLASSICS OF WORLD CINEMA, Cinematheque Ontario, July 5-August 5, Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West). 968-3456. Rating: NNNNN
There's a class of summer moviegoers that justifies its fondness for what can politely be described as "brain-dead crap" with the attitude of that philosophical giant Bobby McFerrin. "Just turn off your mind and enjoy the ride," they say. There's some evidence that these folk often forget to turn their minds back on after enjoying the ride to Armageddon.
I do not belong to this school of thought and so offer this recommendation: if you feel the spiritual expense of summer blockbusters outweighs the comfort of intense air conditioning, and that university is just too expensive, Cinematheque Ontario offers an Essentials Of World Cinema series that's the equivalent of an intense three-semester course in the classics.
Buñuel, Kurosawa, Chabrol, Ophuls, Bertolucci, Bergman, Lang, Eisenstein, Godard -- and I'm barely halfway down this rather stunning list of 36 films.
With a slate that includes Imamura's Intentions Of Murder (July 19, 8:45 pm), Chris Marker's La Jetée (August 1, 6:30 pm), Tarkovsky's The Mirror (August 4, 6:30 pm) and Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (August 5, 6:30 pm), the question isn't which films are must-sees so much as whether any of them can be missed.
Detestable Vita Well, I'd skip India Song (August 1, 6:30 pm -- unfortunately, it's the feature with La Jetée), never having seen a Marguerite Duras film that didn't make me want to take a long nap. But despite detesting it when I saw it back in the 70s, I suspect it's time to give La Dolce Vita (July 29, 8 pm) another shot.
The series kicks off with a double bill of DeSica's The Bicycle Thief and Buñuel's berserk, intensely Catholic comedy The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz, and continues into early August.
The only problem I can foresee is that after these films it'll be awfully hard to work up enthusiasm for anything playing at a multiplex, for the best is the enemy of the merely good.