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"Victory or Death!",
This review is from: Alamo [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
The saga of the Alamo is too well-known to belabor extensively here. In short, the Mexican dictator-president General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna marched into Texas, then Mexican territory, in 1836 to quell a rebellion of citizens, most of them American-born. In San Antonio de Bexar, Santa Anna surrounded a couple hundred rebels holed up in the local mission, the Alamo. After a 16-day siege, the General launched an early morning attack on March 6 with 1,800 troops that eventually overwhelmed the fortress. Estimates put Santa Anna's losses at 600 men killed or wounded. All of the Alamo's defenders - officially 189, but perhaps as many as 257 - were slaughtered, some after capture, including those men of American legend, frontiersman David Crockett and adventurer James Bowie. This courageous last stand inspired the Texan Army under Sam Houston to defeat and capture Santa Anna at he Battle of San Jacinto on April 21. In exchange for his release, Santa Anna signed away Mexican rights to the province.
The single best reason to watch THE ALAMO is the wonderful performance of Billy Bob Thornton, who puts a human face on the Crockett legend. At one point, Davy admits that he only began wearing his trademark coonskin cap because an actor playing him on stage did so. Yet, Crockett's fame is so great that even one of the Mexican soldiers attendant on Davy's death wears such a cap in emulation of his hero.
The next best performance, and indeed a very good one, is that of Emilio Echevarria as the arrogant, over-confident, and ruthless Santa Anna. Historically correct or not, it's everything I would have expected the General to be.
The costuming and sets of this epic are magnificent, especially the elegant, brightly colored uniforms of the Mexican officers and their troops. And where did the Texans get such a varied and striking collection of headgear? Those hats were one of the movies best touches.
The other actors, Jason Patric as Col. Jim Bowie (commander of the Alamo's volunteer defenders), Patrick Wilson as Lt. Col. William Travis (commander of the Alamo's regular army defenders), and Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, turn in relatively uninspiring performances. The best role is Wilson's Travis, whose plea for outside reinforcements for the besieged incorporated the famous words "Victory or Death". The character of Bowie remains pretty much a mystery, especially as he spends his last days on his sickbed suffering a lung ailment vaguely termed "typhoid pneumonia". And Quaid's frowning Houston is particularly wooden and brooding. It was if either the actor or Houston was continually preoccupied with indigestion.
Inasmuch as I can determine from Web research, the events surrounding the Alamo battle seem, generally speaking, accurately depicted on-screen. Out of necessity, Crockett's death was embellished because the truth surrounding it remains murky - but this version is nicely done (and enhances the Crockett legend). THE ALAMO also takes pains not to demonize the Mexican forces - except for Santa Anna, of course. Indeed, some of the General's chief lieutenants argue for sparing the captured defenders. And the fact that native Mexican (tejano) settlers fought alongside the Texans is given due credit. (For once, political correctness meshes with historical fact.)
After the film stutter-starts a bit establishing the characters of Crockett, Travis, Bowie, and Houston, it settles down into being a fine historical epic. And the Davy Crocketts of John Wayne and Fess Parker can stand aside for Billy Bob's.