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"Remember the Alamo!" This was the vengeful rallying cry for those seeking Texas independence from Mexico during the spring of 1836. The Alamo was an abandoned mission-turned-fortress in San Antonio. Its defenders were a curious assemblage of U.S. military soldiers, adventurous frontiersmen, and other volunteers sympathetic to the cause. Combined, their forces numbered less than 200. Texan and Mexican forces had tangled over the Alamo before, but it was thought unlikely that the Mexican Army would make a long winter journey just to attempt another assault. On February 23, 1836, this unlikely scenario became a chilling reality, as Mexican forces, numbering in the thousands and lead by Mexico's brutal dictator himself, General Santa Ana, reached the outskirts of San Antonio. Santa Ana's target... The Alamo! The bloody siege that followed lasted for 13 days, during which time the Alamo's defenders fought and died to the very last man.
What surprised me about The Alamo was how accurately it tells this chapter of American history! Unfortunately, the price paid for such an honest depiction of events is one of near-complete loss of cinematic excitement. The Alamo plays well as an historical recreation, but lacks the depth of character and emotion required for compelling drama.
I couldn't help but think that this film was severely edited to shorten its running time. A lot seems to be missing. In fact, I'd imagine The Alamo, with sufficient motivational backstories for its principle characters, would have made for a great four or five hour television mini-series.
The only character to have escaped such editorial tampering seems to have been that of Davy Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thornton. Because of this, much of the story centers upon him. Luckily, Thornton does a good job of portraying Crockett, not as a legendary frontier super hero, but as an ordinary man sadly buying into his own myth, hopelessly caught in a bad situation he really didn't want to be in. While the fallibility of Davy Crockett makes for an interesting character portrayal, it is not enough to sustain the entire production.
As for the other characters, they were uniformly shallow. William Travis, played by Patrick Wilson, is the standard untested military commander of any Hollywood war movie ever made and Jim Bowie, played by Jason Patric, does little more than fill the role of his equally generic nemesis. Meanwhile, General Sam Houston is played almost as a cameo appearance by Dennis Quaid. Houston continually confounds his men only to later explain his military tactics in laughably simple terms, just in time to take credit as the real hero of the picture. Leading the Mexican Army, as mentioned earlier, is the villianous General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, played by Emilio Echevarría. Santa Ana is a bad, bad man!
What results is an uneven mix of history and entertainment, neither of which proves very satisfying. The Alamo isn't a bad movie, but it could have been much better! So, sure, go ahead and remember The Alamo... remember to rent it on home video, that is.
Directed By: John Lee Hancock
Written By: Leslie Bohem and Stephen Gaghan and John Lee Hancock
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson,
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sustained intense battle sequences.