THE PATRIOT: 4K Blu-ray (Columbia/Centropolis, 2000) Sony Home Entertainment

Far-reaching spectacle is Roland Emmerich's forte. The director primarily known for apocalyptic disaster movies and super-adventurous sci-fi, surprised even his harshest critics with The Patriot (2000); a gut-wrenching, sprawling familial saga set against the backdrop of America’s Revolutionary War. To date, The Patriot remains Emmerich’s best-received movie, perhaps, in part because he did not partake of the screenwriting duties this time around. Writer, Robert Rodat actually labored over seventeen drafts of the script, always with Mel Gibson in mind for the part of Benjamin Martin, the mercenary resurrected from his self-imposed retirement after his devote faith in the cause of liberty is tested. The parallels between The Patriot and Gibson’s Oscar-winning Braveheart, made a scant five years earlier, cannot be overlooked. Indeed, Benjamin Martin bears a creepy resemblance to William Wallace, a man denied a quiet life on his own terms – each, ruthlessly pursued to the brink of extinction by the British and driven to avenge a grave injustice perpetrated on their families.
There is a certain visual gravitas to The Patriot to set it apart from most every screen epic made in its time; the artistic symmetry in Caleb Deschanel’s 2.39.1 Panavision compositions harking all the way back to the glory days of the bygone mid-1960’s Hollywood epic that, at least briefly in the mid-1990’s, appeared as though it might be on the cusp of a resurgence. This renaissance was short-lived, however. It costs – a lot, in fact – to make a movie as visually arresting as The Patriot: one reason pictures like it are few and far between, and, alas, in the interim since, virtually nonexistent on our movie screens. The other reason is less flattering to the Hollywood community. You see, it takes an artist of considerable wherewithal and a keen visual style to achieve such results. 

In reviewing The Patriot in 4K, its superior framing of the action, Emmerich’s arresting pursuit of a particularly fluid camera for the battle sequences (when a less accomplished director might have simply run on the discombobulating and nausea-inducing swirl of a jerkier hand-held), and his verve for establishing every major scene change with a master shot (unheard of since David Lean’s time) anchors the picture with a sense of time, period and place. Too often, contemporary directors have taken for granted their audience will either know something of the ‘time’, ‘period’ and ‘place’ or merely accept their reconstitution of it, concentrating almost exclusively on wall-to-wall ‘action’ to fill the run time. Mercifully, The Patriot is built more like a Hitchcock thriller than an actioner; Emmerich allowing for quiet respites where the audience can simply indulge in the visual splendor and fall ‘in love’ with the textured sights and sounds of antiquity set before them.
For the pivotal role of Martin’s eldest son, Gabriel, producers first considered Joshua Jackson, Elijah Wood, Jake Gyllenhaal and Brad Renfro before narrowing their choices to either Ryan Phillippe or the late Heath Ledger; the latter winning out for his ‘exuberant youth’. Ledger’s tragic death in 2008, from an accidental overdose on prescription medication, has deprived the world of one of the finest actors from his generation. Ledger’s ability to convey a personal strength of character beyond mere movie-land styled heroism, not to mention his easily pasted heartthrob quality among prepubescent and teenage girls, is decidedly one of the contributing factors to The Patriot’s box office success. The production is also afforded superb performances from Joely Richardson (as Martin’s sister-in-law, Charlotte Selton), Lisa Brenner (as the ill-fated Anne Howard), Tom Wilkinson (a particularly cold-blooded Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis), and, in the pivotal role of the bastard/villain we can all love to hate, Jason Isaacs (an unbelievably vial Col. William Tavington).
Aside: those seeking a history lesson from The Patriot would do wise to digest its earthy chronicle with the proverbial grain of salt, particularly in the case of Tavington’s celluloid representation. It has oft been said a picture is only as good as its meanest foe; our collective need to distill the virtues and vices of mankind into their simplest black and white layers of distinction (when humanity, in all its collective chaos, is anything but as clearly delineated) helps to serve the parable of The Patriot: mentoring us in hyperbolic patriotism where freedom and inherent goodness are not permitted to perish from the earth: the very qualities upon which America’s own mythology is founded. Realistically, neither goodness nor freedom are a given, nor intrinsic or exclusively ascribed to the American tapestry of life. 

So, while it is certainly true the real Sir Banastre Tarleton (on which this character is very loosely based), attained notoriety and infamy for his massacre of the surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws, South Carolina (earning him the unflattering nicknames ‘Bloody Ban’, the ‘Butcher’, and ‘The Green Dragoon’), conversely, Tarleton was hailed by loyalists and the British as an outstanding leader of light cavalry, Tarleton’s fate was not decided on the battlefield (as depicted in the movie), but long after the American campaign, and only after he had lost two fingers in battle, returned to England and successfully entered the political arena in 1790 as an MP for Liverpool in the House of Parliament where he would remain steadfast until 1812. A proponent of slavery, Tarleton’s ascendance continued from Major-General in 1794 to Lieutenant-General in 1801.  He would die at home in 1833 of natural causes rather than the bayonet. So much for ‘truth’ in cinema!
Shot entirely on location in South Carolina by cinematographer extraordinaire, Caleb Deschanel with a flair for the traditions of the ole-time Hollywood film-making, The Patriot takes full advantage of these historical settings; the picturesque nature of Charleston, Rock Hill, Lowrys, the antebellum rice plantation, Mansfield near Georgetown, among many others, taking on the scope of one of David Lean’s painterly masterpieces. Particular attention is paid by Production Designer Kirk M. Petruccelli and Costume Designer Deborah Lynn Scott to get the period look just right; the pair, along with Art Director Barry Chusid, and, Set Decorator, Victor J. Zolfo, pouring over a century’s worth of archival research catalogued at the Smithsonian for their inspiration. Despite Emmerich’s association with composer David Arnold, his demo score was rejected for a more thunderous offering by John Williams. Whether stirring an animosity unique to this occasion, or perhaps, simply bringing older artistic differences to light, Arnold would ultimately never again collaborate with Emmerich on any of his subsequent projects. 
The Patriot is as gripping as it is gargantuan, starring filmdom’s then resident hunk du jour, Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin - a soldier of fortune mellowed in the years since his bloody raid against the French. As a widower, Benjamin resides pastorally on his farm in South Carolina with his children; Gabriel, Thomas (Gregory Smith), Margaret (Mika Boorem), Nathan (Trevor Morgan), Samuel (Bryan Chafin), William (Logan Lerman) and Susan (Skye McCole Bartusiak); the latter, not having spoken a word 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. 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 the Martins' plantation, Thomas expresses his intent to enlist - a move Benjamin quashes.
Several hours later, a superficially wounded Gabriel collapses at home with 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; an unrelentingly cruel commander of the British Green Dragoons. Discovering Gabriel's dispatches, Tavington orders the house burned, the wounded rebels executed and Gabriel sentenced to be hanged. Thomas’ feeble attempt to save his brother's life is met with a cold musket from Tavington’s pistol, incurring Benjamin's wrath when he refers to Thomas as ‘a stupid boy’. The rest of The Patriot unfurls as a revenge/tragedy with Shakespearean overtones rather than any lasting testament to the Revolutionary War. As their home burns, Benjamin orders Margaret to take William and Susan to their Aunt Charlotte’s plantation, travelling with stealth through the open fields infested with British cavalry. In order to rescue Gabriel from the hangman’s noose, Benjamin takes Nathan and Samuel, handing them rifles, into the forest for a successful ambush of the small contingent. Alas, all three boys witness their father brutality; Benjamin bludgeoning the last remaining soldier with his tomahawk as willful revenge for Thomas’ murder. Returning to his children still soaked through in the dead royalist’s blood, Benjamin orders their retreat deep into the woods, to Aunt Charlotte’s plantation. Meanwhile, the sole survivor of Benjamin’s assault is salvaged and interviewed by Tavington, who brands Benjamin ‘a ghost’.  
Against his father’s strenuous objections, Gabriel rejoins the Continentals. After some consternation, Benjamin agrees to fight, placing his children in Charlotte’s care.  En route to the army’s base camp, father and son witness Gen. Horatio Gates of the southern Continental Army engaging the British. Hopelessly outnumbered, the rebels are easily defeated in a particularly bloody conflict.  Reunited with his former commanding officer, Colonel Harry Burwell, Benjamin is made a Colonel, with Gabriel placed under his direct command. Tasked with keeping Lord Cornwallis’ regiments pinned south, Gabriel mildly resents his father’s directives. At first skeptical, French Major Jean Villeneuve (Tchéky Karyo) nevertheless trains Benjamin’s militia how to fight the British, insisting his legions will eventually arrive to fortify their forces at some later date. Having heard rumors of his father’s previous deeds in the French and Indian Wars, Gabriel is now provided with the truth. Benjamin had fought for the British against the French, discovering an atrocity perpetrated on a stronghold earlier fortified. As revenge, Benjamin led a raid on the French at Fort Wilderness where he and his cohorts methodically tortured their enemies to death. There was no honor in their deed. Indeed, it has haunted Benjamin ever since. Perhaps for the very first time, Gabriel recognizes his naiveté in such dreams of liberty without first recognizing the repercussions that rear from a darker side to glory and heroism.
Benjamin calls to arms his fellow Americans, forming a stealthy militia that wreaks havoc on Cornwallis' troops, even stealing his prized Great Danes and blowing up one of his tall ships loaded with British supplies in full view as Cornwallis is entertaining the British aristocracy to illustrate his supremacy in this war. Chagrined, afterward Cornwallis lays blame squarely at Tavington’s feet. His brutal tactics have girded enemy’s resolve. However, fitfully irritated by his own lack of progress, and furthermore shamed by the enemy’s clever ploy to have freed members of the captured militia, Cornwallis now orders Tavington to stop Benjamin by any means necessary. Enlisting the aid of Loyalist Captain Wilkins (Adam Baldwin), Tavington unearths the identities of several militia members and embarks upon a hellish campaign to level their homes and slaughter their families. Under the cover of night, Charlotte manages to escape her plantation with the rest of Benjamin’s children, only moments before Tavington orders the stately abode torched.
The Martins are reunited at the Gullah settlement populated by former slaves. There, Reverend Oliver (Rene Auberjonois) weds Gabriel to his betrothed Anne. For a brief wrinkle in time, all is well. Tragically, Tavington’s brigade invades the small town where most of Benjamin’s militia men reside. As the men are away, Tavington herds their families into the church, ordering Wilkins to burn it to the ground. Arriving too late to save their loved ones, each of Benjamin’s men face the aftermath of their loss in their own way. A bereaved John Billings (Leon Rippy) takes his own life, while others, like Reverend Oliver and Dan Scott (Donal Logue) redouble their efforts with tear-stained steadfastness to see the war through. His heart turned to stone over Anne’s loss, Gabriel, Oliver, Scott and several others ride on horseback to ambush Tavington’s encampment. Although the element of surprise is initially on their side, Tavington manages, at first, to fake his death by pretending to crumple from a superficial shoulder wound. As Gabriel approaches, the wily Tavington turns onto his back, plunging a bayonet deep into Gabriel’s chest. As Gabriel lays dying, Tavington retreats. Benjamin discovers his son on the field and comforts him as he draws his last breath. 

Momentarily wavering in his commitment to the cause, Benjamin rejoins the newly fortified Continental Army, coming face to face with his arch nemesis at the Battle of Cowpens. Tavington and Benjamin engage in a fight to the finish, Tavington momentarily gaining the upper hand to inflict several significant wounds. Benjamin slumps to his knees. However, as Tavington prepares to deliver the coup de grâce with his sword, Benjamin instead stabs him with his concealed knife, using a free hand to thrust the broken bayonet deep into Tavington’s throat. On a larger scale, Cowpens is a Continental victory forcing a humiliated Cornwallis to order retreat. In the brief epitaph that follows, Cornwallis is invaded at Yorktown, surrounded by the Continental Army, newly reinforced with the long-awaited arrival of French naval forces. Benjamin collects Charlotte and his children. The family returns to their former land, where Benjamin discovers his remaining militia men already embarked upon a rebuild of his homestead. It is indeed a new dawn for a new nation.
The Patriot is a rapturous salute to the American Revolution; flag-waving to a fault and superbly cinematic. Screenwriter, Rodat’s inspiration for Benjamin Martin (apart from Mel Gibson, to play him) was culled from the documented exploits of several fighting men from this period, though none more heavily relied upon than Francis Marion – nicknamed ‘Swamp Fox’ for his stealthily executed escapes into the bayous. Alas, Rodat neglected to dig a little deeper, or he might have discovered Marion was a serial rapist who hunted Indians for sport; a ‘minor detail’ to create a major uproar in the British press. Setting aside this parallel, however, and, of course, allowing Rodat his pound of artistic license, it is possible to derive much satisfaction from The Patriot’s fictionalized account of the war, historical warts, flaws and inaccuracies intact. Yet, and in spite of its many virtues, The Patriot was only a modest box office success, earning $215.3 million on its $110 million investment. Why? Perhaps, simply owing to the fact its ‘R’-rating was enough to turn away a goodly number of teenage boys who otherwise might have been drawn to its action-packed bloody conflict, while the more mature and cynical among attendees was apt to reconsider the fakery imbedded in its thin history.
What the movie does spectacularly well is to graft one man’s noblest odyssey, intermittently tainted by vengeance, onto the passionate cause célèbre of an evolving nation; Benjamin Martin’s microcosmic road to redemption translating with exceptional clarity to the collective upheaval of a peoples’ fight for their democracy and freedom. Alas, it remains impossible not to see Gibson’s Benjamin as the Americanized stock company knock-off of William Wallace; his mannerisms uncannily the same and easily identifiable to anyone having seen Braveheart first. Gibson is a fine actor and proves it throughout The Patriot. But he never quite casts off the pall of this ‘other’ larger-than-life historical zeitgeist having won him the Oscar. Ironically, the truly memorable performance in the picture belongs to Jason Isaac’s supremely charismatic sociopath. With his glacial, reptilian stare wed to an eerily Roger Moore-ish smirk, Isaac’s demonic presence is larger than life. We love to hate a good/bad man and Isaac’s Tavington is about as unscrupulous and vial as the wicked come; deliciously evil and mesmerizing. The rest of the cast offers solid support.  However, the crux of The Patriot is devoted to this chest-thumping battle royale between Gibson’s marginally corrupted/world-weary paragon and Isaac’s repellent and soulless monster.  As an actioner draped in the trappings of a faux history lesson, The Patriot yields exceptional entertainment without ever looking too closely at the particulars.    
Photographed in Super 35 Panavision, Sony’s new 4K incarnation of The Patriot offers superior color reproduction, thanks to HDR10 color grading. While several shots appear slightly soft (as likely they did originally on film stock) the image is consistently sharp without any untoward digital tinkering. It also reveals superb detail, down to the minutest cornflower petal and granule of wet sand. Skin tones are superb. Film grain has been consistently handled for an uncannily film-like presentation that will surely not disappoint.  There is a richness to shadow delineation too that the old standard Blu-ray can only guess at, with atmospheric fog and smoke so life-like you can almost reach into the screen to touch it.  Colors are both more vibrant and more natural in appearance. You are going to love the way this looks.  Less appreciated…only the 164-minute Theatrical Cut has been given all the bells and whistles of a 4K upgrade. Those preferring the slightly more immersive 174-min. Extended Cut must content themselves with the Blu-ray – also included in this packaging.
The new Dolby Atmos offers subtler improvements when compared to Blu-ray’s 5.1 PCM.  Its the spaciousness that impresses herein, quiescent moments as enveloping as the heart-palpitating fray of battle.  It goes without saying, dialogue is natural sounding, augmented by groundswells devoted to John Williams’ score.  Extras have been ported over from Sony’s long-defunct 2-disc DVD. They include an audio commentary from Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, and, featurettes: The Art of War, The True Patriots and, Visual Effects, along with deleted scenes, concept art, a photo gallery and theatrical trailer.  Bottom line: very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4K Version 5+
Blu-ray 4