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FORGETTING THE "ALAMO"
on 13 January 2005
Although the ALAMO may be good as a historical tool, as entertainment it is only average. American audiences who remember "The Alamo," most likely are thinking of the John Wayne version.
Back in 1960, when John Wayne directed and starred in "The Alamo" that movie had a sense of glory and majesty. OK, so it wasn't as authentic as the 2004 version, but it was a hellova a lot more exciting. The new movie, directed by John Lee Hancock and starring (one of my favorite actors/writers/directors/producers) Billy Bob Thornton, and Jason Patric, Dennis Quaid and Patrick Wilson is 100-times more authentic than Waynes movie but the thrills and excitement are gone.
The movie opens with Sam Houston (Quaid) getting word that the Alamo has fallen under General Santa Anna's (Emilio Echevarria) Mexican Army. Then the movie does a flash back to tell how this happened. Jim Bowie (Patric) -- of big knife fame -- and William Travis (Wilson) agree about how to share command of the mission. Then Davy Crockett (Thornton) arrives at the Alamo.
Most of the movie is about the siege of "the Alamo" and the massacre of the grossly outnumbered American troops (a few "noble" Mexicans and slave African-Americans) in the main buildings and the outer walls. For authenticity, the battles are filmed at night, as they actually happened. But this made them difficult to see and understand.
The big flaw in this movie is that you never get to know the lead characters. What do we know? Houston drank too much, Travis divorced his wife (after fooling around with women) and ignored his daughter, Bowie drank too much and suffered from "consumption" (tuberculosis), and David "Davy" Crockett's heroism was more about an actor's imagination and not much about action. These snippets of information are only glimpses into their character rather than letting us in on who these people really are.
By contrast, in John Wayne's 1960 movie he played Crockett from the start and infused the character with larger than life heroics. Although Thornton is by far the best actor in this movie his version of Crockett is low key and lacks dynamics. Quaid, whho has very few scenes as Houston, doesn't get a chance to develop that character --- other than his battles with the bottle.
Patric as Bowie may come across as soulful and brooding, but you never feel for this guy as much as you should. As Travis, Wilson is positively weak. As the man in charge of the Alamo, you never trust him to be capable of saving anyone.
The movie should have stopped right when the battle for the Alamo ended. Instead it goes on until Santa Anna is captured. Because all the lead characters, except Sam Houston, are dead after the Alamo falls, keeping a follow up story going is anti-climactic, watering down the impact of the Alamo sacrifices.
People still talk about John Wayne's ALAMO. The 2004 version is already fading from memory.