This was the film which caused total outrage on its release, coming shortly after the furore over U-571 and the Americans thinking they captured the enigma machine and not us Brits. Here again, it was Britain which was the butt of total rewriting of history, this time from the American War of Independence. Now since we were at war with the American Colonies and lost, some liberties with the truth could be expected. However watching atrocities carried out under the name of Britain which historically only happened over 150 years later under a leader called Hitler, you start to see why some fuss was made.
The one thing they got right about the film was the casting of Mel Gibson as the farmer Benjamin Martin, who initially refuses to take up arms against the British. However, once the rest of his family becomes too deeply involved, he ends up taking on the might of the redcoat army. Having played a similar role in Braveheart, here again he can inspire troops to take on the British.
At the start, the war is right at its infancy, with the problems being discussed and whether the country will actually go to war. Although unwilling to join up, Ben's oldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) does so, and is soon carrying messages for the emerging American side. As could be easily predicted, the untrained and poorly equipped Americans are no match for the disciplined British troops who soon have them on the run. With fighting going on right outside his house, Gabriel re-appears carrying documents for the Americans. Although all Ben does is offer shelter and treatment to the wounded men of both sides, his house is burnt by the British victors and in a subsequent squabble one of his kids is shot and killed. Thus enraged Ben seeks revenge, by first ambushing and brutally killing a small convoy which is taking Gabriel to trial.
Martin gathers together a small band of militia, which start to take the fight to the British by raiding convoys, sabotaging shipments, etc. Each time, the British retaliate, and it is now that the film goes out of control from any sensible historical facts.
The actual fight scenes between the two armies are well done, even if now you could be forgiven for wondering why they just marched slowly towards each other in rank waiting for the opposition to shoot them. Nevertheless, yes, this was how wars were fought at that time. In addition, with the special effects available now, you have the delightful scenes of watching a bouncing cannonball pass serenely through a group of men, removing extremities in the process. If you can forget totally about history and just want entertainment then you might be able to sit through the two and a half hours of film. However, remember the fight scenes are only a small proportion, with the rest being sentimental Hollywood schmuck which Gibson's on-screen presence just about manages to keep afloat.
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