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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Patriot stars Mel Gibson as a South Carolina farmer who joins the cause of liberty in the Revolutionary War. While characters demonstrate courage and sacrifice, the movie is extremely, unrelentingly violent, with many graphic battle scenes. A character shoots himself in the head after his family is killed. A solider is decapitated by a cannonball; other soldiers lose their limbs to cannonballs. There's blood and gore throughout, as characters fight with muskets, rifles, swords, cannons, and hatchets. Dead Black people are shown hanging from a tree, and dozens of characters are burned to death while locked in a church. The atrocities committed in a past battle are vividly described. Other than the violence, there's some use of words like "hell" and "damn," and characters drink wine and whiskey and use chewing tobacco. Characters kiss, and there are gentle sexual references in a scene depicting the colonial custom of "bundling bags" for courting couples.
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What's the story?
THE PATRIOT stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin, a veteran of the British army who was a hero during the French and Indian War. Twenty years later, he has no love for the monarchy but some skepticism about the alternative. He asks, "Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?" and says "I haven't got the luxury of principles." More than that, his memories of the atrocities of war -- his own as well as the enemy's -- and his passion for protecting his seven children won't allow him to fight again. But when Benjamin's son is killed by a British soldier, he throws guns to his younger boys, straps several onto himself, and goes off to fight his own personal war, sort of like Robin Hood crossed with the Terminator.
Is it any good?
It's not perfect, but this is a very enjoyable popcorn movie, sumptuously and excitingly filmed, and rousingly entertaining. The action sequences play well, and Gibson delivers, as always. He's utterly compelling in The Patriot, whether he's grimly dispatching an enemy, looking tenderly at a tiny daughter who won't speak to him, or agonizing over his past sins. Fellow Aussie Heath Ledger is superb as Benjamin's oldest son Gabriel, at first impatient to join the fight and later a brave and mature soldier and an ardent suitor.
There's a long Hollywood tradition of reluctant heroes being forced into violence, thus giving us the best of both worlds: a hero whose heart is in the right place but whose muscles and gun are, too. So Benjamin has to find a reason to fight. It would have been better if that reason had something to do with liberty and democracy, but instead it's about revenge. (The only heartfelt struggle for independence in the movie is teenage rebellion.) It's worth noting that producing/directing team Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich play fast and loose with historical facts here. Not only is villainous Colonel Tavington so reprehensible that he enjoys burning down a church filled with civilians, but the film in no way acknowledges that the character of Benjamin was inspired by a real-life colonist who hunted Native Americans and kept enslaved people. In fact, while one racist character showily learns the error of his ways after being saved by a Black solider, the film pretty much ignores historical race relations and slavery. So The Patriot may be exciting, but it's definitely not an accurate history lesson.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of the American Revolutionary War. How accurate do you think The Patriot is to what actually happened? The movie has been criticized for omitting the fact that the real-life person Benjamin was based on hunted Native Americans and kept enslaved Black people (and for ignoring the realities of slavery during this era). What impact does that have on the way viewers perceive the movie's characters and messages?
Do you think the movie's violence is necessary to convey a sense of the reality of the war? Do different types of media violence have different impact?
- In theaters: June 28, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: October 24, 2000
- Cast: Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Mel Gibson
- Director: Roland Emmerich
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: History
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 165 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong war violence
- Last updated: June 25, 2020
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