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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The colonists' fight for independence promotes the value of heroism, courage, and sacrifice. Other messages include the importance of standing up for what you believe in and that you can't escape the wrongs you've done in the past. The film has been called out for ignoring the realities of slavery in the American colonies during this period.
Positive Role Models
Benjamin is portrayed as a reluctant hero who displays tremendous courage and bravery when he feels he ultimately has no choice but to fight. His son Gabriel also displays courage and valor in the face of profound loss and cares enough for the cause of liberty to be willing to die for it. The members of the militia led by Benjamin are citizens from all backgrounds who put their lives at risk for what they believe in. A racist man who initially believes that Black men shouldn't be soldiers, much less earn their freedom by serving in the Continental Army, changes his mind when his life is saved due to the bravery of the Black soldier in his militia. That said, the movie essentially ignores the facts of slavery in the American colonies during this time, including that the real person Benjamin's character was based on was an enslaver (as were many of the United States' founders).
Violence & Scariness
Frequent, explicit, unrelenting battle violence. Fighting with muskets, rifles, swords, hatchets. Blood and gore. A solider is decapitated by a cannonball; other soldiers lose limbs from cannonballs. A man shoots himself in the head after finding his wife and child murdered in front of his home. Black characters are shown hanging dead from a tree. A horse is killed when stabbed in its underbelly with the spear of a flagpole. Dozens of characters are burned to death while locked in a church. Injured soldiers' limbs are hacked off by battlefield surgeons. Talk of eating dogs. The lead character discusses the atrocities he committed while a soldier: He hacked dozens of the enemy into little pieces and kept two survivors alive to bring the dismembered remains to their superior officers. Verbal reference to implied rape.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kissing. Gentle sexual references in a scene depicting the colonial custom of "bundling bags" for courting couples.
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Some use of "hell" and "damn."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Wine and whiskey drinking, but not to excess. A character chews tobacco and spits some of it on the floor.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.