Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric
Director: John Lee Hancock
Sara M. Fetters
Not Worth Remembering
tales in U.S. history provoke as much discussion and patriotic
ferocity as the story of the Alamo. The story of a few hundred men,
women and children holding out for thirteen days against the
overwhelming army of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana is a
rallying cry speaking to the unbending nature of American willpower.
In Texas, men like James “Jim” Bowie – yes, the man with the knife –
and Tennessee iconoclast David “Davy” Crockett aren’t just heroes,
they’re saints; patriots who gave their lives in order to see the
rights and freedoms of men prevail in a despotic wasteland.
truth is always a much less misty-eyed animal, whereas history can be
colored through the lens of the viewer. It is the truth of the matter,
the facts of what led up to the Alamo and the subsequent events that
followed that most interested original screenwriter John Sayles (“Lone
Star,” “Casa de los Babys”). It was that original treatment that
originally drew director Ron Howard (“The Missing”) and with him star
Russell Crowe (“A Beautiful Mind”), but with their salary demands and
Howard’s insistence on crafting a brutal, R-rated story pushed the
boundary of what Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney
Entertainment, had anticipated, the studio decided to pass on working
with the superstar duo and proceed in a decidedly different direction.
Instead, Touchstone turned to writer/director John Lee Hancock
(screenwriter “A Perfect World”) whom most recently met with great
success with Disney’s Texas baseball drama “The Rookie.” Re-writing
Sayles’ script, along with Leslie Bohem (“Dante’s Peak”) and Stephen
Gaghan (“Traffic”), Hancock decided to take the true-to-life epic in a
much more family friendly PG-13 direction. Surrounding himself with
well known actors like Dennis Quaid (“Far From Heaven”) as Texian
General Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton (“Monster’s Ball”) as Crockett
and Jason Patric (“Speed 2: Cruise Control”) as Bowie, everything
seemed to be in place to craft a rousing historical adventure.
trouble lingered on. The director’s original three-plus hour original
cut of the film did little to please either studio bosses or advanced
test audiences. Thus, the original Christmas Day release for “The
Alamo” was scrapped, Touchstone willing to give Hancock more time to
chop down his sprawling buffet-size meal into a more manageable
Arriving in theaters today, the resulting $100-million dollar motion
picture is a flawed, sprawling examination of the Mexican-American
conflict that raises far more questions than it answers. Characters
are introduced and then forgotten, while important moments in this
event’s history are relegated to unimportance asides. But, it does
succeed in making the fight inside the Alamo more than just a
jingoistic land grab. And, unlike the forgettable John Wayne
ego-filled monstrosity of the 1960’s, I did get that I was watching
real, flesh and blood individuals instead of one-dimensional
caricatures designed to arouse a boringly pedantic patriotic fervor.
most part, this incarnation of the story chooses to revolve around the
relationship between Crockett, Bowie and beleaguered Lt. Col. William
Barrett Travis (Patrick Wilson, HBO’s “Angels in America”), whilst the
exploits the hounded
bookend the picture on either side. It is the first triumvirate
relationship that is the most affecting.
in particular, is a treat. He really gets inside the ex-politician,
come to Texas with his tail firmly stuck between his legs after a
disastrous reelection campaign in his home state. Above them all he
understands fully the difference between mythology and factuality, and
in his furrowed brow it is apparent that only in their massacre can
this rebel stand against Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarría, “Y Tu Mamá
También”) ever have any real significance.
the rest of the cast was as fully fleshed out as Crockett is, however.
Quaid is fine as Houston, a late film speech comparing his strategy to
– the British General who brought down Napoleon – particularly
effective. But, other than that one moment, this military man who love
to see himself anointed President of an independent
is nothing more than an enigma, a soldier with aspirations to empire
almost as great as Santa Ana’s.
least he’s got more than one-dimension. Pity poor Echevarría, he’s
stuck playing such an inhuman monster I wouldn’t be surprised if
Mexicans throughout North America put up their noses and spat towards
the picture. Only once does the script hint at greater depth towards
the character, Santa Ana admitting to his inner circle his aspirations
to rule all of Mexico, but fearing that the American’s won’t be
satiated until “they rule the entire world.” It is a prescient
sentiment, and taken in consideration with U.S. dreams of manifest
destiny, not entirely out of the questions of rational thought.
rest of what they can. Patric dies of consumption beautifully, while
Wilson makes Travis a majestically tragic figure. But in what can only
be described as glaring examples of the picture’s extreme re-editing,
Jordi Mollá (“Bad Boys II”), playing famed Mexican hero Juan Seguin,
is reduced to a scene or two of petulant whining. Yet, that’s better
than what can be said for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” favorite March
Blucas. Playing famed militiaman James Bonham, his entire role seems
to be edited clean out of the picture, the actor reduced to one
excruciatingly silly voiceover as he writes a letter to loved ones.
nothing else, “The Alamo” is still extremely well made, every dollar
of the studio’s budget up on the screen. In fact, Dean Semler’s
(“Bruce Almighty”) cinematography is lusciously filthy, the film
photographed as if shot through a haze windswept Texas dirt. Even
better is Michael Corenblith’s (“Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole
Christmas”) production design. No detail is left uncovered, no facet
of 19th Century Texas left untouched, “The Alamo” a true
period adventure where the world feels so significantly lived in I
could almost imagine walking the tumbleweed ravaged streets myself.
Only the usually reliable Carter Burwell (“The Ladykillers”) falters,
his musical score a constantly intrusive influence upon an otherwise
technically sound motion picture.
But it is the script and apparent lack of direction that finally does
the film in. Hancock, a director who showed so much promise with “The
Rookie,” can’t seems to juggle all his disparate story lines into one
cohesive whole. Whole sections appear to be missing, characters fall
by the wayside and the whole thing moves with all the care and
precision of a 757 lumbering to get off the jet way. Unfortunately,
much like past efforts to recount the tale, this is one version of the
Alamo not worth remembering.
êê (out of
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