Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5.
Germany/USA, 2000. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Centropolis Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Global Entertainment Productions GmbH & Company Medien KG. Screenplay by Robert Rodat. Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. Produced by Dean Devlin, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn. Music by John Williams. Production Design by Kirk M. Petruccelli. Costume Design by Deborah Lynn Scott. Film Editing by David Brenner. Academy Awards 2000. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2000.
It seems Mel Gibson is hell bent on making the most socially irresponsible films out there: after offending women (with What Women Want) and gays and lesbians (with any movie he makes, though Braveheart and The Man Without a Face immediately come to mind), he now adds the British and African Americans to his long roster of ignorant storytelling. Not to mention the kitschy view of patriotic Americans as seen here, in this tale of the American Revolution against British rule depicted as uneducated, hot-headed upstarts who sparked a war just to prove that there’s nothing they won’t do for the grand ole’ flag. Gibson leads a melodramatic cast as a widowed father of seven, who is labeled progressive because he pays his slaves and lets them talk to him without fear. It’s just an excuse for all involved (including willing viewers) to pretend that America’s legacy of racism never actually happened (or it did, but to someone else; in reality, a man who paid his slaves would probably have been killed by his neighbours). After having won many great battles against the French, Gibson is reluctant to leave his life of peace and join the army; when his saccharine son (Heath Ledger, whose performance is mainly a collection of empty-eyed puppy dog expressions) enlists and his other son is murdered in vain by an evil captain (Jason Isaacs), he joins the fray and turns into 18th-century Mad Max (though not as interesting or cool). Apart from how radically it strays from well-established historical accuracy (the part where they celebrate Ledger’s wedding in slave quarters, complete with calypso music and kente cloths, will possibly induce a scream), the film really is a rambling bore, bumbling along from plot point to plot point without ever managing a strong narrative. Screenwriter Robert Rodat’s script is a pale comparison to his stronger work on Saving Private Ryan; where that film went against conventions of battle films by killing its heroes to show the evil nature of war, this one insults its audience by knocking off the most annoyingly innocent people just to manipulate emotions. There’s terrific visual effects, gorgeous costumes and some of best camera work of the year (by veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel), but Mel is too old for this stuff and the British are lazily depicted as either inconceivably evil (the men) or stupid (the women). Director Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day) is better suited to science-fiction pseudo-epics than this vain attempt at historical drama.