If you want history, read some books. Let's get that out of the way first. There are many fine histories written on the battle of the Alamo, and disputing ideas about what exactly happened there. It is likely that, like Custer's Last Stand, the exact story of what went down at the Alamo will still be disputed by historians long after we all are dead.
This movie is about mythology, not history. While the battle of the Alamo was a historical event, it long ago entered into the realm of American Myth. It is our Iliad. If we cannot win, this is how we want to die - not shirking our duty, but finding something heroic inside ourselves to rise to the occasion. That was portrayed well in this film. The principle players, Bowie, Crockett, and Travis, are not born heroes here. Instead, they are strong men with flaws and quirks of character like all the rest of us. When they are confronted by crisis, we see them rise beyond their flaws, their doubts, even their fears, and in their last moments truly become the heroes of the legend. This was captured powerfully in this film.
An early scene shows Sam Houston speaking to Davy Crockett about Texas at a ball in Washington, near the end of Crockett's term in congress. Seeing the two together, an observer whispers to another man that either of those two might once have had a chance to be president, but no more. It is a nicely done scene accomplishing several things at once. First it allows us to see the two as men who had risen to a certain level of success and power, with some reason to expect more to come. It then shows us that before the fighting in Texas, both were men whose star was in decline, and who may have faded out of history had they not cast their lot with the Texicans. Finally, it establishes from the beginning that Davy Crockett was more than a coonskin hat-wearing cliche hero, and prepares us to see him played as a fully dimensional character. This is just one example out of many of how efficient and well made this movie is.
The whole cast did a great job with their roles, but I thought that Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett delivered a particularly outstanding performance; one of the best of his career. The role gave him many opportunities to shine, and he rose to the occasion. Chills ran down my spine when his Crockett stood like a chuckling Prometheus to answer the murderous music of the Deguello with his defiant fiddle. And in his death scene, he created a powerful alternative take on how a hero can die. Though it is one of the most controversial scenes of the film, I believe any man could be proud if they were able to meet death with such courage and defiant humor.
The film has some flaws - much was edited out, and it leaves the story and character of Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston feeling choppy and incomplete. But taken as a whole, this is a powerful new take on a great American legend, not replacing, but adding to what went before. It has many layers and much nuance, and is a film which bears seeing more than once to take everything in. While not perfect, I can't give four and a half stars, so I give it five.