The Patriot

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Watch out men, it's Mel Gibson's giant face!

Benjamin Martin: "Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you."
Colonel Tavington: "Why wait?"

A 2000 war epic starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, set during The American Revolution, The Patriot isn't about the actual founding fathers (Washington, etc.) but is instead about some of the biggest and most brutal engagements that were waged in the southern colonies, as seen through an Officer turned Farmer turned Officer again. Mel Gibson is Benjamin Martin, a veteran of the French And Indian War who was changed by the horrors he has seen (and committed). South Carolina had just voted to join the war, but Ben said he would not. His eldest son Gabriel decides to go anyway. He isn't seen again until two years later, when he staggers home, wounded and carrying dispatches between two rebel leaders.

This is where Colonel Tavington comes in. The commander of the elite Green Dragoon forces, Tavington orders the deaths of the rebel wounded, has the Martins' house burned down, and takes Gabriel in as a spy to be hanged. Thomas, his next oldest son, tries to intervene, and gets a bullet in the back for his trouble. This sparks Benjamin Martin's decision to join the Revolution to fight the Redcoats (and to ambush and slaughter the British detachment).

The rest of the film is spent with Martin and his militia harassing Tavington (and by extension, Cornwallis) throughout South Carolina, holding out until The French arrive to reinforce the Colonials.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, the film is known for its gruesome battles and the hit-and-run tactics employed by the militia. It's also noted for its score, which Barack Obama had playing in the background during his Presidential acceptance speech.

Is also known, however, for it extreme cases of Politically-Correct History, having plenty of (partly blatant) Historical Villain Upgrades for the British and Historical Hero Upgrades for the rebels, to make the conflict more justified.

Tropes used in The Patriot include:

"A shepherd must tend his flock...(snatches off wig and puts on black, broad-brimmed hat) and at times, fight off the wolves."

  • Badass Long Hair: Most people in the 18th century
  • Batman Gambit: After taking a supply convoy full of Cornwallis' personal effects (and two prized Great Danes), which include numerous officers' uniforms, Martin rides into Cornwallis' base for formal parlay, claiming he's captured eighteen officers. The talks quickly turn to prisoner exchange, and Martin offers the "officers" (really just stuffed dummies) for the members of his militia, who were captured earlier.
    • He then whistles on his way out, prompting the Great Danes to leave Cornwallis, back to Martin.
  • Berserk Button: Try to harm Martin's family and you will have a tomahawk stuck in your skull before long.
  • Berserker Tears: At the end of the ambush, in slow motion.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The French making the save at the Siege/Battle of Yorktown.
  • Black Vikings: Sort of. Martin's Carolina plantation workers state they're all freed men, despite such a thing not historically happening until the Civil War.[please verify]
  • Blood Is the New Black
  • Brick Joke: Benjamin's inability to build a rocking chair. He finds one in Cornwallis' headquarters and tries to examine it until Cornwallis catches him.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jean Villeneuve, on behalf of the French; they promised their navy and ten thousand soldiers.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Martin learned about hit-and-run guerilla tactics employed by the Indians and later explained that his unit during that time period would respond in kind. In his first engagement in the movie he instructed his sons to target the officers, shoot the soldiers from back to front (while he went front to back), stay low to the ground and hidden behind logs, trees and small hills. This was all reflective of the time period, the American Revolution was the first war to edge away from typical open field, lines of soldiers confrontations (although until barrel rifling was devised snipers were not nearly as helpful or useful in wars).
  • Composite Character: Both Martin and Tavington were a combination of several colonial militia leaders and brutal British commanders.
  • Concepts Are Cheap: All the talk of freedom often amounted to just that, as Gabriel notes. Its his hope that after winning their independence the Americans will have a chance to make them a reality.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The first one seen in the film has the British wiping the floor with the rebels.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tavington
  • Dual-Wielding: The climax fight scene features Tavington wielding a sword and unfixed bayonet while Ben uses his Cherokee tomahawk in one hand and a dagger in the other.
  • Enemy Mine: The French aren't about American independence as much as they are seeing their old rivals, the British, humiliated. Personified by the relationship between Benjamin Martin and the Frenchman Jean Villeneuve. Martin is well-known to have massacred and mutilated a French force during the French And Indian War.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While not actually evil, Cornwallis is still appalled at Tavington's brutal tactics and (rightly) faults him for the increasing resistance against the British from the American militia. Also, one of Tavington's men complains that there's no honor in burning down a church full of civilians, and is clearly reluctant to follow his orders to do so.
    • Really, despite the movie's reputation for being anti-British, most of the British soldiers are shown to dislike Tavington's orders and tactics... ultimately their sin is going along with them anyway.
    • While not explicitly pointed out by the movie, some of the loyalists clearly either committed some "treason" of their own or outright defected after their leader was willing to tell Tavington where Martin's children were, since Martin and his militia show up at the plantation house only about ten minutes after the British do. Apparently their loyalty to the King had reached its limit.
  • Evil Brit - Again, Tavington is spot on. To a much lesser extent General Cornwallis, his staff and Tavington's loyalist aide-de-camp. Yet, they all belong to the least sympathetic characters of the story, mainly because Aristocrats Are Evil.
  • Evil Feels Good: Tavington's real motivation. He claims it's about gaining honor and esteem through victory, but various of his actions and reactions make it clear that he's simply an egomaniac and a psychopath using the war as a chance to indulge himself. When he points his pistol at Benjamin Martin for the first time, Martin doesn't react, simply facing the possibility of his death with strength and dignity. Disappointed with this reaction, Tavington turns the pistol on Martin's children to get the pleading he was hoping for.
  • Fake American - Heath Ledger as Gabriel
    • Joely Richardson, too. She's a Brit, but plays the sexy sister-in-law/aunt.
  • Fatal Flaw: To defeat Cornwallis in the climactic battle, Martin takes advantage of Cornwallis' pride and penchant to ignore the fighting ability of American militia.
  • Faux Affably Evil - Travington.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Dan and Occam. Dan repeatedly insults Occam because he's a black slave but after Occam saved Dan's life during a battle, Dan softened on him. After the war, they work together to help rebuild Benjamin's house. Occam was a free man by that time, voluntarily staying with the militia even though he no longer owed them service.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: After Anne Howard and Mrs. Howard sew Gabriel Martin into a bundling bag when he stays the night, Mr. Howard listens nervously at the door. Mrs. Howard says, "Don't worry, I'm a better seamstress than my mother was." Mr. Howard looks mortified and replies, "I hope so!"
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: Part of historical fact, but especially notable for the well-dressed French soldier. When Martin takes note of Villeneuve in his proper uniform just before a large battle, the Frenchman insists that if he is to die he is going to die well-dressed.
    • Also used for military purposes in the movie itself, as during Gabriel's rescue Martin shoots the more-conspicuously uniformed officers first, then goes to work on the grunts.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Martin is chiefly based on Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, the foremost guerrilla fighter of the Revolution; unfortunately, Marion had no qualms about slavery (he certainly didn't free any of his slaves). Hence, to make Martin more sympathetic to modern audiences, Martin is made to reflect the anti-slavery sentiments of John Laurens, a South Carolina Revolutionary leader who was anti-slavery.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Although Banastre Tarelton, the prototype for Tavington, was a rather nasty individual (cf his actions at the Waxhaws Massacre and his fervent support of the Slave Trade as an MP), he was not nearly as bad as the film would have you believe. Many of the things Tavington does, such as locking up villagers inside their church and then setting it and them on fire, are the kinds of things Nazis did, rather than 18th century British soldiers.
  • Hollywood History: Aside from most of the battle depicted, about two thirds of the movie. However, it's not meant to be a documentary and no one involved with making it ever claimed it was... it's an action-drama set during the Revolution. It's essentially meant to be about the spirit of the Revolution, as opposed to exact historical fact.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Lord Cornwallis, did you ever learn that you DON'T fire cannons into the center of your army unless you want to hit them too? Remarkable though, this is Truth in Television because there were occasions where Cornwallis actually did fire cannons into his own troops in order to hit the Americans.
    • The whole final battle in general, which was a mix between the Battle of Cowpens, and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (The latter one the British actually won!). It is very very difficult to hide a reserve army of app. 10.000 men only 500 meters away from the enemy behind a small hill. It was impossible for Cornwallis not to notice it. Although the Battle of Cowpens did have a forward line of Militia luring the British into charging headlong into the better-trained regulars hiding behind a dip in the terrain. The circumstances of the Battle of Cowpens and the battle in the movie were rather different, of course.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Most notably when Tavington shoots a fleeing revolutionary from a hundred yards away with a flintlock pistol while on horseback.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: An in Tavington's case it's from a clearly modern martini-style glass.
  • Insult Backfire
  • Ironic Echo: Cornwallis calls Martin and his militia "a bunch of farmers with pitchforks." After Benjamin Martin's gambit (see below), Tavington tells him, "Quite impressive for a farmer with a pitchfork, wouldn't you say?"
    • Capt. Wilkins, a Loyalist, answered Tavington's question on why he should trust a man who "betray his neighbors" with "Those neighbors of mine who stand against England deserve to die a traitor's death". Later on, Tavington orders Capt. Wilkins to burn his said neighbours to death inside the church. When Capt. Wilkins says there's no honor in it, Tavington coldly throw his own words at him to make him do it anyway.
  • It Has Been an Honor: An exchange given between two of Martin's militiamen, one a bigot and the other a slave working for his freedom. Even better, it was instigated by the bigot when he remarked that the freed slave had already done his time.
  • Kick the Dog: Tavington does this constantly, and in fact struggles against Cornwallis to continue doing so when he disapproves of his methods.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Cornwallis upholds the "set piece battles" (soldiers lining up and shooting in open fields) as highly honorable, and won't have any of Tavington's barbarity.
    • Not surprising. Like the real man, he's literally a genius at these open engagements. The open battle where he was defeated (before the French arrive) was a slightly altered version of the Battle of Cowpens, which shares little more than its (supposed) location, result, and (to some extent) strategic effect with the actual thing.
  • Missing Mom: Benjamin's wife died before the movie's events leaving his six kids motherless.
  • Not in This For Your Revolution: You would think, given the title of the movie, Mel Gibson's motivation would have something to do with love of country. Instead, he refuses to get involved until it gets personal.
  • Old Shame: Benjamin Martin's tenure during the French And Indian War.
  • One Bullet Left: Benjamin Martin deliberately saves a special bullet made from one of his murdered son's lead soldiers especially for the Big Bad who killed him, Colonel Tavington. Subverted in that while he does get his final, poetic justice-y shot in on Tavington, a cannonball landing nearby throws off his aim and only wounds the villain, leading to a rather fierce duel between Benjamin and the now very pissed-off Tavington in the midst of the battle.
    • From the way he looks at it, both when making it and when pulling it out of his pouch, it's unlikely it was deliberate... Martin actually seems surprised that he's essentially going to shoot Tavington with Tavington.
  • Papa Wolf: Benjamin Martin.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Gabriel spends the night with his fiancée, Anne Howard, and her family. Mrs. Howard sews Gabe into a bundling bag for the night, to keep him and Anne from getting up to anything. Afterwards, Gabe and Anne talk, while her dad listens nervously at the door.

Mrs. Howard: Don't worry, I'm a better seamstress than my mother was.
Mr. Howard: [mortified] I hope so!

    • Justified in that if Ann's mother had gotten pregnant, they could have just bumped up the wedding. Ann's fiancee is at war and could be killed, not to mention a pregnant girl living with her parents with no husband in sight would probably attract the attention of the British looking for rebel sympathizers.
  • Pet the Dog: Ben was kind enough to take care of the two Great Danes he captured.
  • Playing Against Type: Adam Baldwin as a pro-British anti-American Independence man? Impossible!
  • Poisonous Friend: Gen. Cornwallis wants to fight the war honorably, as do most of the other British soldiers encountered in the film. However, Tavington attempts to prove his worthiness/dedication to the cause by taking actions that Cornwallis expressely forbids, until Tavington finally manages to corrupt Cornwallis at the end of the film and he gives Tavington permission to capture Martin using brutal tactics.
  • Pride: Martin notes it as Cornwallis' Fatal Flaw, and it proves to be true. Pride motivates Cornwallis to making use of Tavington, tarring his own reputation and binding him closer to Tavington's noxious influence. Pride causes Cornwallis to underestimate the militia. Pride motivates Cornwallis to charge headlong in like Tavington does, rather than risk letting Tavington earn the acclaim. And ultimately, pride leaves Cornwallis huddling humiliated in his room while sending his subordinate out to surrender in his stead.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: (With shades of Heroic Sacrifice and Was It Really Worth It?.) By the end, Benjamin Martin has violently lost his home, his two eldest sons, his daughter-in-law and her family and her entire village, his sister-in-law's home, and at some points his own self-respect. Many of his friends and comrades made similar sacrifices; he watches as a longtime friend shoots himself in the head after finding his own family slain.
    • And his younger sons have lost their innocence when he enlisted them to rescue Gabriel.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Martin's militia.
  • Redshirt Armies
    • Don't you mean Red Coat Armies?
  • Retirony: Occam, the black slave, subverts this trope. Ben's son who comes back to kill the man who killed his newly wedded wife? Not so much.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Benjamin Martin does this twice: the first time, he ambushes the British detachment that captured his oldest son after Tavington shot his second oldest in the back. The second time, Martin keeps his promise to kill Tavington by the war's end.
    • Gabriel also attempts this after Tavington corrals a bunch of innocent townspeople -- including his new bride (who was also his Unlucky Childhood Friend) -- into their town's church and burns it down, killing everyone inside. His didn't work.
    • Also, the ambush can be considered as both a Roaring Rampage of Rescue to save Gabriel and a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as mentioned above.
  • Running Gag: Gabriel and Anne have -- and continue to -- slip ink into one another's tea. Both are seen at one point or another smiling with ink-stained teeth)
  • Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: Col. Tavington in his introductory scene. When Martin tries to reason with him about his brutal conduct by citing the Rules of War, Tavington responds by aiming a pistol at his head (an unarmed civilian, natch) and asks him if he would like a lesson in the rules of war. Then he points it at Martin's children.
  • Shirtless Scene: As if their wasn't enough reason to like Tavington...
  • Sophisticated As Hell

General Lord Cornwallis: (referring to a replacement formal coat) It is a horse blanket.
Colonel William Tavington: Oh, I don't know, my Lord. It's really... quite nice.
General O'Hara: Very nice, my Lord.
General Lord Cornwallis: Very well, it is a nice horse blanket.

    • Then later on in the same scene:

General Lord Cornwallis:...give me the horse blanket...

  • Spiritual Successor: Mel Gibson Hates The English, Part II. Also known as "Braveheart with Flintlocks".
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Surprising considering how cartoonishly evil the British are, but the militia is utterly merciless to surrendering redcoats and ignores the standard rules of engagement of the time.
    • Which causes Gabriel to call them out on it, after which Benjamin orders that surrendering and wounded British will receive quarter. Realizing you're doing things you shouldn't do because you're angry about the abuses suffered by you and your countrymen is sort of a theme of the movie.
  • Unstoppable Rage: fueled when Thomas is killed and used to destroy an entire British detachment.
  • War Is Hell
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The scene when Martin and some of his men slaughter a group of surrendering redcoats. The rest of the group gets scandilized, making Martin realize the brutality of their actions.
  • Wretched Hive: Where Benjamin goes to recruit men for his militia. Them getting pissed at someone shouting "God save King George!" tells him he's in the right place.