Gibson plays a South Carolina farmer, a recent widower, who has seen his share of war and now just wants to till his soil and raise his brood. But when the cruel Brits burn down his house and kill one of his sons he reluctantly agrees to answer the call to arms. And he does it in spectacular fashion as a guerilla fighter who soon becomes a legend.
It takes the thick end of three hours to roll out the story which goes all the way to the defeat of the British at Yorktown, but director Roland Emmerich paces it well and it doesn't seem overly long.
For Gibson, who is in virtually every scene, it is an acting tour de force. He is masterful in the action sequences while bringing a very modern, perhaps even anachronistic, sensibility to the quiet moments.
Traditionally, movies about this period of history have performed badly. Perhaps having had the facts--and myths--force-fed to them at school, audiences became immune to the subject. But they have never had it told better and with as much visual style. "The Patriot" could rewrite boxoffice history. According to some sources it has already done that to the historical facts. Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson and Jason Isaacs. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Robert Rodat. Produced by Dean Devlin. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated R for strong war violence. Running time: 164 min