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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Patriot is a 2000 movie in which Mel Gibson plays a South Carolina farmer who joins the cause of liberty in the Revolutionary War. This is a very violent movie, with many graphic battle scenes, vividly portrayed. A character commits suicide when his family is killed. A solider is decapitated by a cannonball; other soldiers lose their limbs to cannonballs. There's blood and gore throughout the battle scenes, fighting with muskets, rifles, swords, cannonballs, and hatchets. African-Americans are shown hanging from a tree. Dozens of characters are burned to death while locked in a church. The atrocities committed in a past battle are vividly described. There are some gentle sexual references in a scene depicting the colonial custom of "bundling bags" for courting couples.
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 "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, a sort of Robin Hood crossed with Terminator.
Is it any good?
Despite minor flaws, this is a very enjoyable popcorn movie, sumptuously and excitingly filmed, and rousingly entertaining. The action sequences play well, and the black characters are treated with as much dignity as possible. Gibson delivers, as always. He is utterly compelling whether he is hacking an opponent to death, looking tenderly at a tiny daughter who will not speak to him, or agonizing over his past sins. Fellow Aussie Heath Ledger is superb as oldest son Gabriel, at first impatient to join the fight, later a brave and mature soldier and an ardent suitor.
There's a long Hollywood tradition of reluctant heroes who are forced into violence, thus giving us the best of both worlds with 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 nice 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. And, producing/directing team Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich play fast and loose with historical facts here. Colonel Tavington is a villain so reprehensible that he not only burns down a church filled with civilians, he also enjoys it. This level of cartoonish exaggeration makes it harder for us to engage with the characters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the real origins of the Revolutionary War. How could you learn more?
Was the violence in the movie necessary to convey a sense of the terrible realities faced by soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War, or did it seem forced in for the sake of trying to make the movie more exciting?
This movie is a classic example in which a "reluctant hero" is the center of the story. What are some other examples of movies with "reluctant heroes?"
- 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
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