Tuesday, March 9, 2010

THE PATRIOT: Blu-Ray (Columbia 2000) Sony Home Entertainment

The jury is in, and sweeping spectacle is director Roland Emmerich's forte. The Patriot (2000) is no exception; a sprawling saga of familial love and loss loosely grafted onto the heart-wrenching backdrop of the American Revolution with more than a modicum of historical inaccuracy gallantly along for the ride. The film is as gripping as it is gargantuan.

The Patriot stars resident heartthrob, Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin - a soldier of fortune mellowed in the years since his bloody raid against the French. As a widower, Benjamin lives pastorally on his farm in South Carolina with his children; Gabriel (the late Heath Ledger), Thomas (Gregory Smith), Margaret (Mika Boorem), Nathan (Trevor Morgan), Samuel (Bryan Chafin), William (Logan Lerman) and Susan (Skye McCole Bartusiak); the latter refusing to speak since the death of their mother.

As the American Revolution gets underway, Gabriel is impatient to join the Continental American Army against British forces overseen by Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson). As a favor to Martin, Col. Burwell (Chris Cooper) places Gabriel under his command - ensuring his relative safety through the endlessly gruesome carnage. As the warring factions draw nearer to Martins' plantation, Thomas also expresses his intent to enlist - a move that Benjamin quashes.

Several hours later, a superficially wounded Gabriel arrives at the family home carrying military dispatches. The next afternoon, the Martins tend the wounded from both armies. Unfortunately for Benjamin and his family, their unbiased philanthropy is viewed as treason by Colonel William Tavington (Jason Issacs); an unrelentingly cruel leader of the British Green Dragoons cavalry. After discovering Gabriel's dispatches, Tavington orders that Gabriel be hanged, causing Thomas to attempt to save his brother's life. In the resulting struggle, Tavington deliberately kills Thomas, incurring Benjamin's wrath.

The rest of the film is really a revenge melodrama, with Benjamin calling to arms his fellow Americans to stand against the British. Forming a militia, Benjamin wreaks havoc on Cornwallis' troops, even stealing his dogs and blowing up a tall ship of British supplies in full view on the eve that Cornwallis is entertaining members of the British aristocracy.

Having sent the rest of his family to the relative seclusion and safety of his late wife's sister, Charlotte Selton's (Joely Richardson) plantation, Benjamin continues to organize revolt against the British in one successful ambush after the next.

In the meantime, Gabriel weds Anne Howard (Lisa Brenner), his long time love. To conceal their marriage from the British, Anne returns with her father and mother to their small town - a move that seals her fate, as Tavington has arrived there first to accuse everyone of harboring Benjamin and his men. The town's folk, including Anne and her family are corralled into the church and set on fire.

Benjamin's real war is now with Tavington - particularly after Charlotte and the rest of his family narrowly escape Tavington and his men torching her plantation. Gabriel finds Tavington first. Regrettably, in the showdown that follows, Gabriel is killed by Tavington, leaving the final ruthless confrontation at the Battle of Cowpen between Tavington and Benjamin.

Screenwriter, Robert Rodat reportedly wrote no less than seventeen drafts before his screenplay was accepted. In the end result, Rodat's conflicted hero, Benjamin Martin is thinly based on several heroic men from that period; one being Francis Marion - a real life militia leader known as the 'Swamp Fox'; a move that caused minor uproar in the British press when it was revealed that Marion had actually been a serial rapist who hunted Indians for sport. While critics for the most part derided the narrative as conventional melodrama with fundamental historical flaws, audiences were more or less kind in their overall assessment and the film became a modest success.

In the final analysis, The Patriot is exuberant film making; Rodat's screenplay grafting one man's odyssey for vengeance and self redemption onto a much larger canvass and valiant fight for democracy and freedom.

Sony Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray at long last rectifies the lackluster transfer this film received back in 2000 and later in 2003 as part of their Superbit Series. Then, the image suffered from considerable edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details. But now we get an absolutely flawless image with fully saturated colors; free of any digital imperfections. Contrast levels are bang on. Even the most minute detail is present for a sumptuous and engrossing visual presentation.

The audio is Tru-HD and appropriately aggressive during the many battle sequences. Dialogue is natural sounding and music and effects are nicely integrated. Extras are direct imports from the Superbit disc and include three brief featurettes on the making of the film. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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