The Patriot - rated - STONE COLD

Patriotism: The last refuge of the scoundrel with no fresh ideas

I went to see this film in a private screening that my brother-in law and sister-in-law won in a trivia contest. We were allowed to bring alcohol into the theatre. What a mistake! Everyone knew each other and everyone was chatty. My husband spilled wine all over me. I wouldn't describe this as a normal way to watch a film. It might affect the review.

But this is formula film making. There's an interesting story to be told about the American War of Independence, and we didn't get it in The Patriot. I can't recall having seen many films about the this War - there are plenty dealing with the Civil War, but not many about the war against the British. I'd have liked to have seen more fact and less fiction. What was the real story? Did we really need a father/son conflict to keep us interested? After all, we have a bloody war! And do we need the world's most predictable love story? With no passion? Talk about family values!

Mel Gibson is charismatic, still, if a little coarser looking. But has he ever actually acted? Not on the evidence of this film. He merely swashbuckles. Heath Ledger can act, and risks overshadowing Mel (who plays Heath's father - and they do look somewhat alike). But the real acting honours go to the ever-reliable Chris Cooper (Magnolia (PT Anderson, 1999) and American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)), as a bedraggled Colonel Harry Burwell. He's a real-looking American soldier. And Tchéky Karyo (a Turkish actor who grew up in France) is also striking as Jean Villeneuve - an unreal-looking French soldier. The actors playing the English soldiers (Jason Isaacs and Tom Wilkinson) don't have a chance - they are forced to play caricatures.

I guess I shouldn't have expected much from this film: the director, Roland Emmerich and the producer, Dean Devlin were responsible for that glorified comic strip, Independence Day (1996), and Godzilla (1998). The writer, Robert Rodat, wrote that realistic view of World War 2, Saving Private Ryan (Speilberg, 1998). This is not the kind of stuff I go overboard about. But I had hoped for something good from Mel.

Much has been made about the fact that the Smithsonian Institution consulted on the historical detail of the film. All I can say is that they must have been consulted on costuming only (although even that is questionable - did Southern ladies wear frocks that were quite so low-cut or flimsy - especially during wartime?). There's very little historical truth on show in the film, as far as I can see.

I'm being harsh on this film, I know, but two weeks after seeing it I can barely remember it. All I can really remember was that some of the scenes were beautifully staged, especially the war scenes. One rather well-done set-piece had two little kids aiming muskets flawlessly and hitting every Brit they aimed at. Stupid, but exciting. And I recall that that the end was awash with schmatz. But everything about The Patriot was just so predictable. So in the end, even the good things about the film couldn't sway me. I couldn't wait for the war to end. Or maybe it was just the fact that I had been drenched with wine.