Camera angles that focus on wretched faces, of young boys in red coated uniforms begging for mercy, and of the arrogance of the British officer corps, not just towards Americans, but towards their own enlisted men, are shown with filming skill. As might be expected for this type of film, John Williams' score was masterful and very much in line with the generation of epics from the 1950s and 1960s -- painting a realistic picture of the film without dialog. Similarly, the audience is set up between the idyllic farm and hard work of a widower in the opening scene to the juxtaposition and hoped for return to normalcy in the final moments -- however, knowing that things will never be as they were (See: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=336714&contentTypeId=130&category=trailer). The scene, however, that most stays with the audience is not one of the grander battles, but a one-on-one battle between Benjamin and Tavington, the British officer that killed Gabriel and ordered Gabriel's wife and townspeople burned alive for aiding the Continentals. Tavington seems to be the victor in the fight, but at the last moment, Benjamin evades Tavington's blade and uses his bayonet to impale Tavington noting that his sons were better men than the British officer.
LION OF THE DESERT -- In many ways, the 1981 film Lion of the Desert has more in common with Taras than with The Patriot. Like Braveheart and Taras, Lion of the Desert deals with the very real themes of nationalism, an invading colonial power, and the consequences of challenging a greater technological force. The film, funded by the Libyan government under Muammar al-Gaddafi is set in pre-World War II Libya which, by 1929, was in the midst of Italian colonization and the establishment of "The Fourth Shore," a rebirth of the old Roman Empire near the ancient city of Carthage. Omar Mukhtar (Anthony Quinn) leaders the resistance to the fascist. Like Benjamin in The Patriot, though, Mukhtar is a benevolent man (a teacher) by profession, but a warrior by obligation. Mukhtar understands, though, that the war cannot be won in his lifetime, especially since the Italian Army is so much better equipped and the Italian Army willing to kill prisoners, destroy crops, and use civilians as fodder. Similar to The Patriot, Mukhtar knows he cannot win battles using formal tactics, but resorts to denying the Italians a victory through guerilla warfare. In a scene that stays with the viewer long after the film's completion, Mukhtar refuses to kill a young captured Italian officer, despite the fact that his adversary has killed hundreds of Mukhtar's kinsmen. Instead, in a moving bit of dialog, Mukhtar gives the soldier an Italian flag, telling him to return to his commanding officer with the message that Islam forbids the useless killing of captured soldiers and demands only that the faithful fight for their homeland, for war is not something to which one should strive.
The film was made for a paltry $35, low for something this epic, and with this level of actor. It clearly has a political bias, and was banned from Italy for over a decade. The critics did not find many factual errors in the film, just a strong sense of viewpoint and portrayal of the good (Islam) and the bad (Italian fascism) without, again, any grey or willingness to acknowledge that both sides committed atrocities. The cinematography was epic, but studied; and the dialog slightly stiff. The film could have been aided by a masterful score, but was just average. Filmed entirely in Libya, the accuracy of costuming and set were important components within the film. Like Braveheart though, the opening and closing scenes depict a population that, if left alone by colonial madmen (Rod Steiger as Mussolini, Patrick McGoowan as King Edward I) the world would be a happier place. In fact, the scene in Braveheart in which Longshanks tosses his Son's confidant out of the window and raves and Steiger's ranting against the hated Arabs are quite similar in filming and tone; the camera moving round and round the angry figure to give the audience a perception of approaching insanity.
Michael Collins -- Of all the films in this essay, the 1996 British/French/Irish historical film Michael Collins is the most intimate. The movie is the story of the last part of the life of Irish patriot and revolutionary, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), who died in the Irish Civil War. Like Braveheart, the movie centers around the conflict between a colonial power (England) and an population that wants self-rule, in this case the Irish. There are political and social parallels between Taras and The Patriot as well -- again, who is the revolutionary/terrorist, and who si the patriot. After all, at this time, despite the modern slant of inequity, England did have political control over Ireland. Unlike some of the other films, though, Collins is a dedicated revolutionary.
Neil Jordan's direction of the film emphasizes the mundanity of the time; dark, wet, scenes -- nothing at all romanticized; baggy costumes, unwashed individuals, and a very powerful use of the montage of actual footage from Michael Collins' funeral, with a eulogy commenting on the struggle -- perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie. Much of the film is filmed as dialog within courts, everyday homes, and meetings designed to show that the struggle was one of the people -- down up -- as opposed to a revolution from above. Only slightly less dogmatic than the British in The Patriot, the ruling class is seen as arrogant, sure of themselves, and even a portrayal of Winston Churchill is unsympathetic in the overall entitlement mentality shown by the British.
Like the previous heroes, though, the cause for which Michael Collins fights is underfunded and not at the technological or organizational sophistication of the antagonist power. From the very beginning, though, the audience is given only enough information to side with the Irish (i.e. substitute Irish for Cossacks, Libyans, Colonialists, Scottish, etc.). In this regard, none of the films are balanced, but they are not billed, funded, nor meant to be biopics. Instead, one of the major commonalities from a film perspective is the manner in which the camera is used to either portray the event in a grand scale, or to focus the audience on a small detail or emotion that lends credibility to the character. Not really formulaic in total, each film though opens with an emotive scene designed to show the world as it should be -- or as it would be if there was no outside interference. One might call this the "Eden Syndrome," in that these opening scenes depict life in a such an idyllic manner, who could possibly want to upset such mirth? Through the machinations, though, of doing what is morally right, the fight for justice takes a toll on each character -- whether a loss of a bit of their soul, or the tortuous loss of their life -- each heroic character must pay a price in order to fulfill destiny. In this respect, the idea of a Greek Tragic Play arises again, as does the issue of manipulation by an entity almost playing chess between the sides -- asking, of course, what one is willing to sacrifice in order to ultimately achieve the necessary reward, if not on the final battlefield of the movie, then perhaps in the next life.
REFERENCES and WORKS CONSULTED
Bittarello, M.B. (2008). "Re-Crafting the Past: The Complex Relationship
Between Myth and Ritual." Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. 10(2): 214.
TRAILERS and PREVIEWS
Brown, Todd. (2007). "Footage from Taras Bulba." Twitch. Cited in: