FF83 - The Patriot

Intro by Ben Harrison

Movie day in middle school was always the best. Usually it was because our teacher was out sick and we had a sub and so some bedraggled stranger would wheel in that crazy AV cart with the 300 pound (130 kg) CRT TV, push a tape into the VCR, adjust the tracking, and we were effectively taken care of for the next period so our sub could read magazines in peace. There was an epic run for about a week where we would watch nothing but Ken BurnsThe Civil War. I don’t know what my teacher came down with and I’m glad they made a full recovery, but I’m grateful. Those are formative years to watch one of the best docs ever made.

What I’m saying is: For a student of a certain age in a history class with a sick teacher a movie can be the very best vehicle for knowledge. I remember a lot of those movies, and this happened quite a bit. If it wasn’t Ken Burns’ Civil War it was Glory or Roots or a handful of other films that came straight up to the line of needing a signed permission slip from your parents to come to class. Those memories came flooding back to me the other day talking to a friend years younger than me and they mentioned that when their history teacher was out sick the sub wheeled in that AV cart and showed them The Patriot, a film that, if all you ever knew about it was gleaned from the box cover, could conceivably be about the American Revolution fought with the aid of Mel Gibson’s giant face hovering over the battlefield, taking enemy blunderbuss-fire and, if you have actually watched the movie, you know that the film’s actual story is just as fantastical.

The Patriot is about a lot of things, but is it about the Revolutionary War? Not really! I am not even a substitute history teacher and I know that. What The Patriot is about is revenge. It is like Taken on horses and it is the uniquely Mel Gibson-y kind of revenge that his characters in the late 1990s and early 2000s frequently embody. Oh, they start peaceful, but then you kill his too-young-for-him bride or one of his seven kids and end up unleashing a gore tsunami for the next two hours. The blood packet industrial complex loves Mel Gibson movies, and that is not to say that everything is fictionalized. American Colonials fight the British in the film, so they got that right, but Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin is a composit based on a number of real historical figures and only the badasses and only their most badass moments.

He faces the sniveling and grotesque Colonel Tavington, a Jason Isaacs character that bears little resemblance to the Colonel Tarleton upon whom he was based. I am sure the historical guy was a dirtbag or whatever, but Isaac’s character is one sick fuck! The film’s climax takes us to the Battle of Cowpens 1781. Was the Martin composite there? I mean, some of the guys that he was based on might have been there. Was Tavington killed there? I don’t know! Can a grown man stab a flagpole through a horse? Not sure I want to know. What I do know is this: A substitute history teacher would do better queuing up some episodes of Friendly Fire than the year 2000 Roland Emmerich-directed revenge film that just so happens to occur during the Revolutionary War. That film, today on the show: The Patriot.

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