Promotional film poster
|Directed by||Roland Emmerich|
|Produced by||Dean Devlin
|Written by||Robert Rodat|
|Music by||John Williams|
|Editing by||David Brenner
Mutual Film Company
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||June 28, 2000|
|Running time||164 minutes|
The Patriot is a 2000 epic war film directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Robert Rodat, and starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. It was produced by the Mutual Film Company and was distributed by Columbia Pictures. The film mainly takes place in South Carolina (and was entirely filmed there) and depicts the story of an American swept into the American Revolutionary War when his family is threatened. The protagonist, Benjamin Martin is loosely based on real Continental Army officer Francis Marion and other Revolutionary War figures. The Patriot was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Music Score.
At the beginning of the American Revolution, Benjamin Martin is a South Carolina veteran of the French and Indian War and a widower raising his seven children (Gabriel, Thomas, Margaret, Nathan, Samuel, William, and Susan) on his plantation. Gabriel, the eldest, is anxious to join the American forces fighting the British in the Revolutionary War. Knowing war from personal experience, Benjamin tries to discourage his son's ambitions, but his son enlists anyway.
Gabriel returns home some time later, stumbling wounded into the family home and carrying military dispatches. The next day, a military skirmish has the Martins caring for the wounded from both sides. British soldiers - the ruthless Green Dragoons cavalry - arrive and kill the wounded Colonial, burn down the Martin house and arrest Gabriel as a spy, intending to hang him. When Benjamin's next eldest son, Thomas, attempts to free Gabriel, he is shot and killed by the leader of the Green Dragoons, Colonel William Tavington.
Making use of his knowledge of fighting in the wilds, Benjamin and his two younger sons, Nathan and Samuel set forth to ambush the British column in the woods. They kill 20 of the soldiers in an ambush and free Gabriel. All three boys are horrified at their first glimpse of their father's ferocity when he hacks a fleeing soldier to death with a tomahawk. Gabriel rejoins the cause against his father's will again, stating it is his duty as a soldier. Benjamin decides to join as well, leaving the rest of the children in the care of his wife's sister, Charlotte.
After the defeat of the Continental Army at the Battle of Camden Colonel Harry Burwell, having fought alongside Benjamin in the French and Indian War, asks him to organize a militia designed to keep British General Cornwallis in the south until the French Navy arrives to assist. French officer Jean Villeneuve, is present to help train the militia.
Benjamin's South Carolina militia uses guerrilla warfare, attacking the British supply lines. Eventually Tavington, who is tasked to find Martin, manages to capture several of Martin's men. Benjamin rides to the British garrison to parlay the release of his men. As he is leaving Tavington recognizes him. In an attempt to aggravate him into a fight, because the rules of war do not permit the British to touch Benjamin unless he shows aggression, Tavington mocks him about the death of Thomas and Benjamin responds by saying, "Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you."
To combat the militia, Cornwallis has Tavington track Ben's family to their refuge with Charlotte and burns down her plantation. However, the family escapes, and are led to a safe haven by Gabriel. Gabriel also marries his childhood friend Anne Howard. Soon after, Tavington orders Anne and her family, along with all their fellow townspeople, to be burned alive whilst locked in the church for aiding the Continentals.
A grief-stricken Gabriel rides out with others to avenge their deaths. During the ensuing fight, all of Tavington's Dragoon unit and Gabriel's militia are killed, but in hand-to-hand combat Tavington kills Gabriel with his sabre and escapes. Benjamin is devastated and his zeal for combat extinguished, until he finds a tattered revolutionary flag that Gabriel had mended among his dead son's possessions. He rides after the Continental Army flying the flag and rejoins his militia.
The Continental-American Army faces off against the British in the Battle of Cowpens. During the climactic battle, Benjamin uses the militia to lure the British into a trap, where Continentals are waiting to charge the British. And soon after, as the Continentals are slowly losing their morale and are retreating, Benjamin encourages them by raising a revolutionary flag up high. The American forces push forward, gradually overwhelming the British. Benjamin fights Tavington in a vicious duel. Tavington manages to bring Ben to his knees while mockingly noting that his foe is not the better man. However, Benjamin misses Tavington's killing blow, and with a bayonet, impales him fatally in the stomach, saying, " You were right. My sons were better men." Benjamin then stabs Tavington him in the throat, killing him.
The tide of battle quickly turns and Cornwallis is forced to retreat and eventually surrender when the French Navy arrives and starts to attack him during the Siege of Yorktown. Martin and his family return to their home to find the militia helping to rebuild it. Occam, a soldier in the militia tells Ben, "Gabriel said that if we won the war, we could build a whole new world. Just figured we get started right here, with your home." Ben smiles and says "Sounds good."
Screenwriter Robert Rodat wrote 17 drafts of the script before there was an acceptable one. In an earlier version of the script, Anne is pregnant with Gabriel's child when she dies in the burning church. Rodat wrote the script with Mel Gibson in mind for Benjamin Martin, and gave the Martin character six children to signal this preference to studio executives. After the birth of Gibson’s seventh child, the script was changed so that Martin had seven children.
Joshua Jackson, Elijah Wood, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Brad Renfro were considered to play Gabriel Martin. The producers and director narrowed their choices for this role to Ryan Phillippe and Heath Ledger, with the latter chosen because, in their opinion, he possessed "exuberant youth."
The film's director, Roland Emmerich, said " ... these were characters I could relate to, and they were engaged in a conflict that had a significant outcome – the creation of the first modern democratic government".
The movie was filmed entirely on location in South Carolina, including Charleston, Rock Hill - for many of the battle scenes, and Lowrys - for the farm of Benjamin Martin, as well as nearby Fort Lawn. Other scenes were filmed at Mansfield Plantation, an antebellum rice plantation in Georgetown,Middleton Place in Charleston, South Carolina, and Hightower Hall and Homestead House at Brattonsville, South Carolina, along with the grounds of the Brattonsville Plantation in McConnells, South Carolina. Producer Mark Gordon said the production team "...tried their best to be as authentic as possible", because "the backdrop was serious history", giving attention to details in period dress. Producer Dean Devlin and the film's costume designers examined actual Revolutionary War uniforms at the Smithsonian Institution prior to shooting.
The Patriot received mixed to generally favorable reviews from critics. The film scored a "Certified Fresh" rating of 62% rating among all critics (and scored a rating of 57% among top critics) on Rotten Tomatoes, which notes that it "can be entertaining to watch, but it relies too much on formula and melodrama." It was one of two Emmerich films to ever be given a "fresh" rating from that website (the other was Independence Day). On Metacritic, the film earned a rating of 63 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews". New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell gave the film a generally negative review, although he praised its casting and called Mel Gibson "an astonishing actor", particularly for his "on-screen comfort and expansiveness". He said the film is a "gruesome hybrid, a mix of sentimentality and brutality". Jamie Malanowski, also writing in the New York Times, said The Patriot "will prove to many a satisfying way to spend a summer evening. It's got big battles and wrenching hand-to-hand combat, a courageous but conflicted hero and a dastardly and totally guilt-free villain, thrills, tenderness, sorrow, rage and a little bit of kissing".
The Patriot's producer, Mark Gordon, said that in making the film, "While we were telling a fictional story, the backdrop was serious history". The film's screenwriter, Robert Rodat, said of Mel Gibson's character: "Benjamin Martin is a composite character made up of Thomas Sumter, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion, and a few bits and pieces from a number of other characters". The film was harshly criticized in the British press in part because of its connection to Francis Marion, a militia leader in South Carolina known as the "Swamp Fox." After the release of The Patriot, the British newspaper The Guardian denounced Francis Marion as "a serial rapist who hunted Red Indians for fun." Historian Christopher Hibbert said of Marion,
However, The Patriot does not depict the American character Benjamin Martin as innocent of atrocities; in fact, Martin describes slowly mutilating and killing prisoners during the French and Indian War. In Hibbert's book Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, written before "The Patriot" was released, Hibbert included no criticism of Marion. Radio host Michael Graham rejected Hibbert's criticism of Marion in a commentary published in the National Review:
"Was Francis Marion a slave owner? Was he a determined and dangerous warrior? Did he commit acts in an 18th century war that we would consider atrocious in the current world of peace and political correctness? As another great American film hero might say: 'You're damn right.' "That's what made him a hero, 200 years ago and today."
Graham also refers to what he describes as "the unchallenged work of South Carolina's premier historian Dr. Walter Edgar, who pointed out in his 1998 South Carolina: A History that Marion's partisans were "a ragged band of both black and white volunteers".
Amy Crawford, in Smithsonian Magazine, stated that modern historians such as William Gilmore Simms and Hugh Rankin have written accurate biographies of Marion, including Simms’ “The Life of Francis Marion.” The introduction to the 2007 edition of Simms' book was written by Sean Busick, a professor of American history at Athens State University in Alabama, who wrote,
"Marion deserves to be remembered as one of the heroes of the War for Independence." “Francis Marion was a man of his times: he owned slaves, and he fought in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee Indians...Marion's experience in the French and Indian War prepared him for more admirable service."
During pre-production, the producers debated on whether Benjamin Martin would own slaves, ultimately deciding not to make the protagonist a slave owner. This decision received criticism from Spike Lee, who in a letter to the Hollywood Reporter accused the film’s portrayal of slavery as being "a complete whitewashing of history". Lee wrote that after he and his wife went to see the movie, "we both came out of the theatre fuming. For three hours The Patriot dodged around, skirted about or completely ignored slavery. How convenient... to have Mel Gibson's character not be a slaveholder... The Patriot is pure, blatant American Hollywood propaganda." Mel Gibson himself remarked that “I think I would have made him a slave holder. Not to seems kind of a cop-out.” 
The antagonist, the fictional Colonel William Tavington, is "loosely based on Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who was particularly known for his brutal acts", said the film's screenwriter Robert Rodat. After the release of The Patriot, several British voices criticized the movie for its depiction of the fictional villian Tavington and defended the historical character of Banastre Tarleton. Ben Fenton, commenting in the British Daily Telegraph, wrote:
Although Tarleton gained the reputation among Americans as a butcher for his involvement in the Waxhaw massacre in South Carolina, he was a hero in Liverpool. Liverpool City Council, led by Mayor Edwin Clein, called for a public apology for what they viewed as the film’s "character assassination" of Tarleton. What happened during the Battle of The Waxhaws, known to the Americans as the Buford Massacre or as the Waxhaw massacre, is the subject of debate. According American field surgeon named Robert Brownfield who eyewitnessed the events, the Continental Army Col. Buford raised a white flag of surrender, "expecting the usual treatment sanctioned by civilized warfare". While Buford was calling for quarter, Tarleton's horse was struck by a musket ball and fell. This gave the Loyalist cavalrymen the impression that the Continentals had shot at their commander while asking for mercy. Enraged, the Loyalist troops charged at the Virginians. According to Brownfield, the Loyalists attacked, carrying out "indiscriminate carnage never surpassed by the most ruthless atrocities of the most barbarous savages". Tarleton's men stabbed the wounded where they lay.
In Tarleton's own account, he stated that his horse had been shot from under him during the initial charge and his men, thinking him dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained."
Tarleton with whom Colonel Tavington's character was loosely based, did not die from an impalement, as depicted in the film. Tarleton died on January 16, 1833 in Leintwardine, Shropshire, England, at the age of 78. He outlived Col. Francis Marion, who died in 1795; by 38 years. Before his death, General Banastre Tarleton had achieved the military rank, equal to what was held by all the overall British Commanders during the American Revolution, and became a member of the British Parliament, where he was a fierce defender of the African slave trade upon which his family fortune was based.
The Patriot was criticized for depicting atrocities during the Revolutionary War, including the killing of prisoners of war and wounded soldiers and the burning alive of group of townsfolk in a church, on grounds of historical inaccuracy and because the film's atrocities are similar to war crimes committed by Germans during World War II. For example, New York Post film critic Jonathan Foreman wrote the following in an article at Salon.com:
"The most disturbing thing about The Patriot is not just that German director Roland Emmerich (director of Independence Day) and his screenwriter Robert Rodat (who was criticized for excluding British and other Allied soldiers from his script for Saving Private Ryan) depict British troops as committing savage atrocities, but that those atrocities bear such a close resemblance to war crimes carried out by German troops - particularly the SS in World War II. It's hard not to wonder if the filmmakers have some kind of subconscious agenda ... They have made a film that will have the effect of inoculating audiences against the unique historical horror of Oradour - and implicitly rehabilitating the Nazis while making the British seem as evil as history's worst monsters ... So it's no wonder that the British press sees this film as a kind of blood libel against the British people."
On the other hand, some reviewers defended the overall accuracy of the film's depiction of the war in the Carolinas as exceptionally brutal. For example, Kirkus Reviews quoted South Carolina historian Dr. Walter Edgar on the subject:
Though critics faulted ... The Patriot for attributing actions to the hated British Legion that were in fact those of the SS in WWII, Edgar (History/Univ. of South Carolina) writes that atrocities were many in the South Carolina backcountry: women and children slaughtered, prisoners executed without trial, whole towns put to the torch... "in the 1990s instead of the 1780s, [officers] such as Banastre Tarleton and James Wemyss would have been indicted by the International Tribunal at the Hague as war criminals."