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The Alamo (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed

JOHN Lee Hancock’s character-driven historical epic, The Alamo, has the dubious distinction of being one of the costliest flops of all-time, having cost over $100 million to make, and taking only $9 million during its first weekend at the US box office.

Yet, in spite of the misgivings of American audiences, the film actually remains a worthy portrayal of one of the key moments in the nation’s history, driven by some quality performances, and a classic style of story-telling.

The story behind the Alamo is the stuff of legend, when a handful of men, including James Bowie and David Crockett, stood up for what they believed in, and made the ultimate sacrifice against the might of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s Mexican army.

The fort in question was viewed, by many, as the key to Texas, and the subsequent battles would eventually find Santa Anna signing over Mexican rights to the State in exchange for his own life.

Hancock’s movie concerns itself with the days leading up to the massacre, as well as the bloody aftermath, during which General Sam Houston led his American troops in a devastating victory to gain revenge for the Alamo, as well as independence for Texas.

But while there have been 13 or 14 films already on the subject (including the 1960 version, starring John Wayne), this claims to be the one which ‘merges the mythology with the new facts that historians have learned about it’.

For Hancock, it is clearly a labour of love, a rich, visually sumptuous affair, which brings out the hopelessness and heroism of the situation, without ever overplaying the patriotism.

And therein may lie the reason for the film’s poor performance at the US box office, given the war-weary nation’s reluctance to continue to glorify their troops, or to be forced to watch another of their nation’s military catastrophes.

For while the victory was ultimately to be American, the Alamo remains a dark hour in America’s past - a hopeless slaughter of many innocents, which may just as easily have been avoided.

Hancock’s movie deftly exposes the mistakes which led to the massacre, flitting between the political manoeuvring of Dennis Quaid’s General Houston, as he attempts to mount an army, while the handful of men at the Alamo grimly hang on for survival.

It may occasionally feel episodic, but the growing sense of futility is expertly captured in the words and looks of his stars, most notably Billy Bob Thornton’s Davy Crockett, and Patrick Wilson’s brash young Lt Col William Travis.

What’s more, their fate is allowed to unfold in a revisionist style, which harks back to the flawed heroics of the character’s who populated Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Thornton’s Crockett, for instance, is a living hero haunted by the misdeeds of a none too glorious past, while Jason Patric’s consumption-riddled Jim Bowie also harbours his own demons, grimly accepting his fate as something inevitable, and even deserved.

Both Patric and Thornton deliver compelling performances, which serve to bolster the film whenever the pace starts to flag - it is a little overlong at two hours and 15 minutes.

But Hancock also deserves credit for delivering some memorable set pieces, not just in the battle scenes, but during the quieter exchanges, too - particularly when Crockett is seen to fiddle in mock torment to his Mexican opposition.

If there is a major fault to be found, it’s that The Alamo may lack the overall emotional impact one might have expected, given the magnitude of the sacrifices, or that it may be one war movie too many at the moment, but then there are still some rousing moments, and the film does emerge victorious from most of its shortcomings.

Hancock certainly did not deserve the apathy shown by US audiences, and it would be a tragedy if the same fate were to befall the film here.

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