ontrary to popular opinion, we Texans don't spend
our time commiserating about the Alamo. Oh sure, we know what happened
there, or at least the gist of it. Then again, so does your average High
School History student in Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, my knowledge of the
Alamo is mostly culled together from old John Wayne movies and the History
Channel. That said, rest assured that my status as a Texan does not color my
review of the film the least bit.
"The Alamo" tells a
straightforward tale of what transpired before, at, and after the battle for
the Spanish mission called the Alamo. It opens with Sam Houston (Dennis
Quaid) receiving word that the Alamo has fallen, and then flashes back to
the events leading up to the battle involving a few hundred Texians (what
they called themselves back then) and the mighty army of self-declared
dictator of Mexico Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarria). Joining the Texians in the
crusade is legendary bear and Indian fighter Davy Crockett (Billy Bob
Thornton) and the equally legendary knife fighter James Bowie (Jason
Patric). As history relates, after 13 days of skirmishes the mission finally
fell when the Mexican army caught the Alamo defenders literally sleeping.
At over two hours, "The Alamo" should have
been 30 minutes shorter. As a bloated epic, it reminds one of "Pearl
Harbor", where an inane love triangle was manufactured to take up
the film's first hour, with the middle 30 minutes dedicated to the
infamous raid on the Hawaii naval port. As with that World War II epic,
the 20-minute epilogue of "The Alamo", where Houston defeats
Santa Ana after leading the over confident dictator on a long march, feels
out of place and unnecessary. If the entire point of the film is the
battle for, and eventual fall, of the Alamo, why encumber the picture with
a pointless 20 minutes that completely saps all the energy out of the
Its ill-conceived final 20 minutes aside, "The
Alamo" is a mostly entertaining and rousing action-adventure anchored
by three fine performances. Billy Bob Thornton ("Bad
Santa") redefines the flawed hero with wild success, and had it
not been for the box office failure of the film, surely more people would
have realized what a fabulous job he did here. In Thornton's hands, Davy
Crockett is anything but the legend that stage plays are modeled after,
and perhaps nothing shows this more than the look on his face when, having
arrived at the Alamo, he's informed that the battle hasn't even begun yet.
You see, Crockett is an opportunist, and having failed at politics back in
his native Tennessee, he's hoping to hit the ground running with a new
career in a newly borne Texas. Much to his chagrin, Texas is still very
much under Mexican control.
Joining Thornton is Jason Patric, playing a stout
James Bowie. Like Thornton's Crockett, you can practically see the
failures and faults on the face and hollow eyes of Bowie. Stricken by an
illness that forces him to bed for much of the fight, the film loses one
of its biggest assets when Patric disappears into the background halfway
in. Luckily Patrick Wilson is available to fill some of the holes left by
Patric. Wilson holds more than his own as William Travis, the officer in
charge of the small patchwork army. A man with his own shameful past,
Travis hopes to make a new start, but his way of doing things causes him
no end of problems with the mostly volunteer Texian army.
With its big budget and large sets, "The
Alamo" should have been anything but the royal failure it proved to
be. The story itself is epic, and the narrative is rife with heroism and
personality. Alas, the film was doomed by the one thing it couldn't
control -- rumors. Bad, bad rumors. Of course it probably didn't help that
Ron Howard, originally tapped to direct (and even came to Texas to scout
locations), left the project. John Lee Hancock ("The
Rookie") took over, and while he does a fair job, one can't help
but wonder what a bigger name like Howard would have done for the film.
With Howard on board and working from a script (minus the much belabored
epilogue) and the cast at hand, the makings of a great epic was there for
And while "The Alamo" as it currently
stands is quite flawed, the final product is still pretty good. For fans
of historical epics, this is a deserving entry in the genre. And more than
any film dealing with the doomed battle, 2004's "The Alamo"
certainly takes its cue from new evidence that sheds light on what
actually happened, as well as frank illuminations on its more colorful
characters. So ignore the bad hype and take a chance on the Alamo.
And if you do decide to take my advice, do yourself a
favor and turn off the movie after the film takes its leave of the Alamo.
The rest of the film is dead weight that should never have survived past
the work print.