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Alamo, The (2004)
For sustained intense battle sequences
Action, Drama, War
Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson, Emilio Echevarria, Marc Blucas, W. Earl Brown, Stephen Bruton, Rutherford Cravens, Blue Deckert, Nick Kokich, Jordi Molla, Matt O'Leary, Wes Studi, Edwin Hodge
Stephen Gaghan, John Sayles
John Lee Hancock
Alamo, The (2004)
In the spring of 1836, in the face of insurmountable odds, fewer than 200 ordinary men who believed in the future of Texas held the fort for 13 days against thousands of Mexican soldiers led by dictator General Antonio López de Santa Anna (EMILIO ECHEVARRÍA), ruler of Mexico. Commanded by three men – the young, brash Lt. Col. William Travis (PATRICK WILSON); the zealous, passionate James Bowie (JASON PATRIC); and the living legend David Crockett (BILLY BOB THORNTON) – the Texans would die for their beliefs, but their deeds at the Alamo would make history as General Sam Houston’s (DENNIS QUAID) emotional rallying call for Texas independence.
Alamo, The (2004) | Review
If The Alamo were a painting, it would fall into the category of photo-realism.
In making The Alamo, director John Lee Hancock faced a task similar to James Cameron when he made The Titanic. Both films are based on historical events where the outcome is certain. Thus, the challenge is not so much to surprise viewers as to depict characters and events as dramatically and as realistically as possible so when the end does come, we feel as if we’ve lived the adventure ourselves.
So how does Hancock score? Pretty well on some counts, not so good on others. This film gets high marks for costumes, sets, props, and battle sequences. If The Alamo were a painting, it would fall into the category of photo-realism. And it would earn top dollar.
Hancock wins bonus points for presenting a fairly balanced depiction of the conflict. Instead of painting the “Texians” as heroes and the Mexicans as bad guys, he makes it clear that each side had only its self-interest in mind, and both were willing to kill for it. What made the Texians different was that they were fighting for liberty—even though their gaining liberty meant depriving others of the same. Then again, I guess you could say the same thing about the Mexicans…
On a character level, the Mexican General Santa Anna definitely comes off as the villain here. But, this being an attempt at revisionist history, he isn’t the only one with his warts on display. When we first meet Colonel William Travis, the young officer charged with defense of the Alamo, he’s signing the papers that will allow him to abandon his pregnant wife and two children. The reason? He’d rather have a few days of glory in Texas than a lifetime without a “name.” It’s hard to believe we’ll care when this guy bites it. But we do, if only because of how much his death will devastate his son.
It’s a little more difficult to care about James Bowie, famed knife-fighter. That’s no slam against Jason Patric who portrays him. It’s just that after resolving a leadership dispute with Travis, Bowie basically retires to his deathbed for the remainder of the film. In addition to tuberculosis, I got the sense Bowie’s character also fell victim to the slash and burn editing process this film was forced to undergo between its original release date of December 2003 and today.
Our greatest sympathies go to Davy Crockett, played with a delicate mixture of bravado and introspection by Billy Bob Thornton. Crockett arrived at the Alamo not even realizing a war was going on. He just wanted the 640 free acres of land promised to anyone who signed up for the Texas militia. The burden of Crockett’s celebrity also weighs heavily upon him. Not only does this make it impossible for Crockett to flee when the opportunity arises (What would people think?), his presence inspires the other men to glorify the position they find themselves in. But Crockett knows all they have to look forward to is killing and death. Glory may come, but they won’t be around to experience it. He tries to tell them the truth, but the men merely clamor for the fictional version of his life.
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