Mel Gibson hasn’t had the late career arc many expected when he was at the height of his acting powers a few decades ago. This guy was just in hit after hit for such a stretch and it was hard to imagine him not being a massive movie star for the rest of his life. But of course, things did go a bit off the rails with some off-screen controversies as well as some rather “interesting” movie decisions over the years. That’s why it can be fun to go back and revisit his movies from that era and see how he could be such a force on-screen. One of those films is streaming now with The Patriot available on Netflix.
The Patriot came out in 2000 and is centered on The American Revolutionary War. Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a retired Army Lieutenant who is reluctant to get caught up in the brewing fight between the British army and the colonial militia. But his son Gabriel, played by Heath Ledger, does get into the mix. It forces Gibson’s character into the fight and basically into the heart of the Revolutionary War fighting in the South. Gibson and Ledger’s father-son relationship is what carries much of the movie and influences almost all of the action.
At the center of the conflict is Mel Gibson clashing with Colonel William Tavington played by Jason Isaacs. The latter takes a cold villain turn in this movie and acts as something like the homicidal face of the British Army. It’s a bit over the top, but mostly works considering the construction of the rest of the film.
Mel Gibson plays a strong role in The Patriot trying hard to be a moral compass for those around him while he works to keep his family safe amidst the atrocities of the war. For a Revolutionary War movie, it keeps the story contained into just the conflicts within this specific theater rather than playing on some of the bigger concepts around the time period. It’s mostly just an action film that’s dressed in colonial uniforms.
It’s this latter piece where Mel Gibson and company did draw some criticism for the film with the general consensus being that it’s wholly historically inaccurate. Very little about the battles, or interpersonal conflict is grounded in any real history of the time. As I said, the backdrop is used more as a setting and plot device than something that should be watched in actual history classes.
From this perspective, The Patriot did underperform with critics eventually finishing at *only* 62% on the Tomatometer and 6.9 on Metacritic. Most actually agreed that Mel Gibson’s performance isn’t at fault in this. He actually earned pretty solid reviews for the anger and emotion he brought to the proceedings, filling up the action sequences while also displaying a tender feeling towards his family. It’s actually not all that dissimilar to what he did in other movies like Signs and Ransom.
No, the critics were apologetic around Mel Gibson and instead chose to ding The Patriot because of that aforementioned historical aspect which tended to totally ignore that actual events. But if you can get past that piece and watch the movie for what it really is – an action film just basically set in the 18th century then you are in for a treat.
Unfortunately, this was nearing the end of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster movie run. A few years later he would star in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs and also direct Passion of the Christ. But in terms of big-budget, award-winning style movies, those days appeared over. He’s been in a number of movies over the years, but none of them close to the star turns he had in the 90s with stuff like the Lethal Weapon franchise, Braveheart, Ransom, or Conspiracy Theory. Mired in some controversy over his religious views as well as some struggles with alcohol, the actor’s career began to tail off somewhat around this time.
Mel Gibson has some cooler upcoming projects, one being Boss Level alongside Frank Grillo. But in the meantime, we can go back and check out Mel Gibson at the height of his acting powers. Go over and check out The Patriot on Netflix now. Going in with a clear mind about history will make it an enjoyable watch.