From Mad Max onward, Mel Gibson has exhibited his warrior paint. Physically smaller male stars often demonstrate an aggressiveness exceeding the norm, and moviegoers accept the showmanship, recognizing men who arenít quite up to the proportions of, say, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, or Sean Connery, are compensating. Even in movies minus blood thirst violenceóThe Year of Living Dangerously, Mrs. Soffel, Hamlet, Tequila Sunrise, The Man Without a FaceóGibsonís cavalier thrust, though charming and romantic and sometimes downright sexual, is used as decoy. This may be why many of us find his Lethal Weapon movies so despicableóheís overtly compensating, determined to be as much of a numbskull bruiser as all the male moviegoers who hadnít yet been won over by his overexposed ass. Then came Bravefart, catapulting him into the ranks of Oscar-winning martyr; though a reach towards the epic scale of Spartacus, it was factually a hoot and dramatically not too much above Stalloneís Ramboóanother compensator. But those handicaps didnít matter: Gibson convinced huge numbers of his ability to direct and star in a solemn action picture. Canít tell if itís intentional or accidental irony, but at the start of The Patriot Gibson is heard saying, ďMy sins would return to visit me.Ē In short order, this Roland Emmerich-directed tale of the beginning of the American Revolution becomes another visit to BravefartLand. This one, however, makes no real claim to historical factóthough it was originally meant to be about the legendary Swamp Fox Francis Marion until it was discovered he was a repeated rapist and a vile killer of Indians. Notwithstanding its load of mistakes (documented at imdb.com), The Patriot isnít much more than a reverie about colonial American militia unionizing for the 2nd Amendment, with Gibson the reluctant bloodied spokesman. Starting out as a widower with 7 kids (to match the number of his real-life brood), a carpenter continually failing to make a sturdy wood rocker, Gibson in Ben Franklin specs is almost defiantly looking his age sans makeup, his rugosity stealing his own movie as a contrast study against Caleb Daschanelís lush photography. Like Man Without a Face, Gibsonís own family ties and skills come to the fore, even if the bits about a daughterís longtime muteness have been transparently rooted for a welled up payoff. In fact, Robert Rodatís script (reportedly rewritten some 17 times) is so transparent we can clock the body counts. Only weíre way ahead of Rodat: unlike Bravefart, we know one of them wonít be the warrior ghost. By the evil doing of the movieís chief villain, the first familial loss comes on too early for us to have any deeper response than shock; the second, in a burning church, is directed and edited as if in fear of its real horror; but the third, angel Gabrielís death, grabs us hard, with Gibson, his face in utter pain, his tears desperately trying not to fall in defeat, having one of his more powerful acting moments. Expected as the villainís eventual comeuppance is, the sequence isnít the vengeful slaughter youíd guess; it doesnít quite get to you in the way it gets to you when Gibson, ambushing the British who took his oldest son away early on, butchers a soldier. This scene, dark and gory, has a savage, unhinged emotionality, suggesting what the real Francis Marion might have been like.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.