Historical drama detailing the 1835-36 Texas revolution before, during, and after the famous siege of the Alamo (February 23-March 6, 1836) where 183 Texans (American-born Texans) and Tejanos (Mexican-born Texans) commanded by Colonel Travis, along with Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie, were besieged in an abandoned mission outside San Antonio by a Mexican army of nearly 2,000 men under the personal command of the dictator of Mexico, General Santa Anna, as well as detailing the Battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1836) where General Sam Houston's rag-tag army of Texans took on and defeated Santa Anna's army which led to the indepedence of Texas.Written by
John Lee Hancock's THE ALAMO is often sluggish, mired in his effort to provide 'detail' in an attempt at honesty, and it is nearly 90 minutes before action fans get their money's worth (and they do; the Alamo's siege and 'last stand' are mesmerizing), but all that being said, the film is a remarkable re-evaluation of one of America's best-known legends.
While each of the story's principals (David Crockett, James Bowie, William Barret Travis, Sam Houston, and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana) are de-mythologized, it is Crockett (brilliantly conceived by Billy Bob Thornton) who captures and holds your attention. Neither the folksy backwoodsman (as portrayed previously by Fess Parker and Arthur Hunnicutt), nor the hero answering an oppressed people's call for help (John Wayne's 'take' on Crockett), Thornton's Crockett is a well-dressed country 'sophisticate', who plays the violin and the political game in Washington very well. As the film opens, he attends a Washington production of "The Lion of the West", based on his fictional exploits, with a leading man dressed in what we today consider the 'Official Crockett Uniform' of buckskins and a coonskin cap. The character on stage, and the legends surrounding him which would ultimately incorporate the Alamo as it's final act, is the 'DAVY Crockett' we all know, but the 'real' David Crockett, according to Hancock, is an opportunist who sees political rebirth in Texas, and arrives hoping the battle is already over. Thornton is masterful, showing Crockett's ambition, his fear of having to 'live up' to the legends surrounding him, and his gradual emergence into a true hero, who would defy Santa Ana with his last breath.
The other leads aren't given as much screen time for character development, with the exception of Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston, a heavy-drinking pragmatist with a political agenda and ambitions of his own. Patrick Wilson's Travis is a failure as a father and husband, hoping to rebuild his life and reputation in Texas; Jason Patric's Bowie is a glowering, unsavory adventurer/businessman, involved in slave trafficking, and terminally ill during the siege (Hooker does, however, bow to legend, allowing the dying Bowie a chance to fire his pistols at the Mexicans before being overwhelmed). Emilio Echevarría, the first Mexican to ever play Santa Ana in an American film, has gotten bad press for his portrayal of the leader as a loud-mouthed, insensitive, lecherous egotist, but from all accounts, that WAS what the real Santa Ana was like.
While the slow pacing of most of the film is a problem, the film's final half hour appears rushed, as the Alamo's fall jumps quickly into Sam Houston's victory over Santa Ana, at San Jacinto (an event that occurred after a momentous six weeks of defeat and tragedy barely touched upon by Hancock). While it is understandable that the film makers wanted an 'upbeat' ending, it comes across as jarring, nonetheless.
If you like your heroes and history 'bigger than life', the 2004 ALAMO will disappoint, and you should stick to John Wayne's version. If, however, you want a new perspective, and are willing to dispense with the preconceptions of the past, this film has a LOT to offer!
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