5 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Pleasantly surprised, 26 July 2009
I'll admit that I was determined not to like this before watching it, due to:
- Hollywood's willingness to play fast and loose with history where the English are concerned, either diminishing heroism (U-571) or exaggerating villainy (Braveheart).
- my utter detestation of the vile Mel Gibson. Someone who denigrates both the English and Jews is never going to be a friend of mine.
- one horrible incident that I'd heard about in this film (see later).
And yet....I'd have to recommend this, largely for the gorgeous cinematography (by the great Caleb Deschanel), wonderful production design and stirring John Williams score.
Having made the point early on that this was a war largely about taxation rather than more high-falutin' ideals, the script - by Saving Private Ryan's Robert Rodat - soon follows that film's outline of making muddled points about honour while marking time until the next big setpiece. As noted elsewhere, it's really a standard revenge plot with a historical backdrop.
The English - apart from the pantomime villain (an overrated performance by Jason Isaacs) - aren't generally painted that badly...although I could have done without the scene where Cornwallis (the dependably excellent Tom Wilkinson) is given 'plausible deniability' (horrible Americanism) about the atrocities that his subordinate has got planned.
Speaking of which...and this is the horrible incident mentioned earlier: if I were a German, like Roland Emmerich, common decency would not allow me to film a scene where the evil soldiers burning people alive in their place of worship are English. Ever heard of Kristallnacht, Roland?
Another couple of grumbles:
- much as I normally like Tcheky Karyo, I could have done without the reminder of how France routinely interfered in our business...but at least that's historically accurate, unlike...
- the laughably idyllic picture painted of race relations in South Carolina in 1776. A soon-to-be-Confederate state, 90 years before emancipation? Give me a break.
- far too much waving of American flags near the end.
Gibson is his usual irritating self, wavering between impotent gibbering rage, forced and unconvincing humility / civility, and relish in extreme violence. I'm still not a fan.
Heath Ledger was still in wide-faced pretty-boy mode here and doesn't make much impression.
Very different from Emmerich's usual sub-Spielbergian direction (zoom in on looks of horror or wonder as doom or impressive spectacle respectively heads into one's vicinity).
Good battle scenes, with no juddery camerawork (hang your head in shame, Ridley Scott) and judicious use of slow-motion. Although I respect this change of pace and look, I'm still looking forward to his return to large-scale planet-trashing in '2012' (with extra points for casting John Cusack).
Overall...I wanted to hate it, but I don't. Unlike its star.