After making numerous references to The Patriot (meaning jokes) and gushing over how
historically accurate ridiculous it is, John and I finally rewatched it to determine if it is, indeed, any good. The answer is “Kind of?” I mean, there’s definitely stuff in there that is top notch- the wide shots evocative of those classic American paintings, the battle on the farm, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs to name a few- but for every good ingredient, there are at least three head scratchers in there. (We have a podcast on it! Check it out!)
Like, mostly… where is Mel Gibson’s commitment to the American cause? It’s suspiciously missing. I mean, I’m not asking for this Roland Emmerich movie to provide intellectual discourse on the values of democracy, but all they do is talk about this concept of freedom without really getting into it. Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin doesn’t ever elaborate what it means to him at the end of the day, not even once. Upon further review, I doubt he’s even the slightest bit patriotic.
So if Gibson’s Martin is not THE Patriot… who is? What is this movie? Why is this movie?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m going to randomly assign points to characters to get to the bottom of this.
Just so we can get on the same page, the definition of “patriot” from the Oxford Dictionary is: a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors. AMUUUURICA.
Mel Gibson Benjamin Martin
Despite Gibson’s impeccable ability to deliver the most action-y one liners, his action and physical movements are actually not great in this! The editing is pretty chaotic all across, but particularly in the battle sequences and we all know what that means. There’s also – snort – one moment where Gibson is mounting his horse and there’s a cut; then he’s suddenly on his horse, because Mel was 44 at the time and probably needed a little step stool. ANYWAY.
Even Emmerich has gone on record saying Gibson is not THE Patriot (-10). As stated above, Martin never actually states his beliefs or ideas of how the country should be run, save for a little blurb of how he thinks the colonies are capable of making decisions for himself (+2); BUT at the same time, Martin declares that democracy can be just as corrupt and power hungry as a monarchy and THAT’S a -3. How dare he!
This all is quickly turned into how he would never welcome war for the safety of his family (-1). It’s not until the Revolution is directly affecting his family and his son is murdered that he decides to take action (-1). Everything that follows is for his own agenda- transferring his son Gabriel into his care so he can lowkey keep an eye on him, commanding his militia army to save his own family but not really giving any regard to theirs, acting out against Cornwallis just to get closer to Tavington (-5 for all this). After Martin leaves the army, he’s only inspired to rejoin after seeing his son’s patched flag and thinking he has one more shot at Tavington (-2).
Don’t get me wrong, this is all pretty American– but it’s not patriotic. He’s not fighting for the defense or even in the name of his country; it’s his own twisted sense of justice and revenge. (Again, pretty American.)
I’ll end with this: after impaling a horse, waving a flag from both horseback and foot (+2), and watching the American flag run by him in slow motion because FREEDOM (+3), Martin’s last line in the Battle of the Cowpens is “My sons were better men” (-3). This is a GREAT line, but it has nothing to do with what the battle ultimately means for the Revolutionary War. Where’s the patriotism!? Where is America? What is America to this character?
Score: -18 (+3 to me for a Hamilton reference!)
Adjusted Gabriel Score: Benjamin rejoins the war waving the flag that Gabriel patched up… So Gabriel’s indirectly responsible for inspiring approximately 342 soldiers and the Battle of the Cowpens. Since Cowpens was the turning point of the Revolutionary War, we can thank Gabriel for all of the freedom we enjoy today. At least +20 sounds fair.
Of all the characters, it’s safe to say Gabriel is the one who most strongly embodies a patriotic nature beyond the whole “Redcoat = Bad” mentality. He openly acknowledges that many things about America will not change with independence but believes in its potential (+5). He is disappointed in his father for not being 100% committed and not taking part (+2) in a cause larger than himself, immediately enlists (+2) while not supporting or glorifying the violence (+1), and works his way up to become a trusted soldier under Colonel Harry Burwell (+1). Gabriel is the only character who puts the American cause before himself, taking accountability in an attempt to draw attention away from his family and other wounded soldiers (+4) and defending British soldiers who surrendered (+2). Upon his death, understands that revenge and anger is senseless (+2).
Score: +19 and +20 from his papa… +39. You know where this is going.
Wants to join the war very, very badly (+1) because… I mean, I think he’s just bored on the farm and it sounds exciting to him despite receiving letters about how terrible war is (-1). When his brother is arrested, Thomas attempts to save him (+1) without any type of weapon except headbutts (-1). Death serves to send Papa Martin on Revenge Quest 1776 (+1).
Score: +1 but no brains, no glory
Adjusted Gabriel Score: Had Gabriel not been so noble, Thomas wouldn’t have gotten killed, and Benjamin would have spent the rest of the movie trying to make a rocking chair. +1, with a total of +40 to Gabriel.
Adjusted Benjamin Score: Benjamin melts down all of Thomas’ toy soldiers into musket balls so he’s reminded of his personal loss while fighting Brits. -2 = -20.
Anne actively listens to the political debates on the streets of Charleston and has a good bead on the country’s unrest (+1). She challenges her neighbors to stand up and take a place in the march towards freedom, instead of just talking about it. No explicit ideas are explained but it sounded good, resulting in recruiting a few good men for Gabriel, so +1 for each man (I didn’t count, so we’ll say 8).
Score: +9, but she has to give these to her husband because women couldn’t own property back then.
Adjusted Gabriel Score: +49
At the tender age of 12 (I’m speculating), Nathan turns into a cold blooded child soldier after the death of his brother; declares he’s glad to kill a bunch of British soldiers who did not actually kill or take part in the death of his brother. Nathan is prepared to defend his family, but is otherwise just lusting for violence. What’s with the Martins romanticizing war!?
Score: 0, this all cancels out. Also, that rape joke wins the Cringe Award of the 2000s.
Elects to join the war to provide guidance and morale to the militia (+3). Takes off his wig and tosses it for inspiration (+1). Dies defending his fellow man and even tosses Gabriel a musket for an assist (+2).
Adjusted Gabriel Score: Giving +1 to Gabriel here because he technically didn’t let the reverend down, bringing his total to +50
“I wanna kill me some redcoats.” THAT’S PRETTY AMERICAN. This kid is more than prepared to defend his country.
After flaunting his reading skills to an ex-slave and being overtly racist without using any slurs, Dan Scott solves racism because a freedman saves his life. Declares he’s proud they can fight side by side (+.5, and that’s being generous). In my mind, they then become best friends and go on a roadtrip. You might have seen this movie. It’s called Green Book.
Score: I’m giving his half-point to Occam.
The movie’s token Black character (+3 for that alone) who becomes a freedman, thanks to the benevolent Benjamin Martin. I’m going to give Occam +10 for saving his bully’s life and also staying in the militia long after his assigned date because freedom has no color.
Adjusted Gabriel Score: Occam namedrops Gabriel at the end, saying the new world will start with the Martin farm. THAT’s the end of the movie. +3 to Gabriel, with a total of 53.
Col. Harry Burwell
Apparently, Burwell is single-handedly responsible for the recruiting and military strategy of the American army. I have no idea if that’s just the movie talking or if they actually did research on this, so I’ll +2 him for now. Encourages all the colonies to work together under the ideals of one nation (+2). Has exhausted all means to communicate with the King and is really seeing protest and open war as a last resort (+2). Works diligently to secure allies and position America as an independent nation (+2)
Adjusted Gabriel Score: Shortly after the birth of America, Burwell welcomes a newborn son named GABRIEL. +1, with Gabriel’s total score at 54
Adjustments and Winner, if it wasn’t obvious: Our Patriot is Gabriel Martin, the epitome of America.