THERE ARE TWO KINDS of people: those who love Mel Gibson's new film The Patriot, and those who hate it.
The litmus test is your reaction to that now-famous scene in which the character played by Gibson arms his sons with muskets – ages 10 and 13 -- and leads them into the woods to ambush the British. Cyber-journalist Matt Drudge reports that audience members at an advance screening gasped in horror at the sight of children firing weapons.
For me, the scene had the opposite effect. It evoked the closeness and comfort of family. It conjured up long-forgotten yearnings from childhood. What boy has not dreamed of creeping through the woods, musket in hand, stalking the enemy, at his father's side, in defense of hearth and home?
Those people who gasped in horror at the screening are evidently strangers to such emotions. They are also strangers to American history and even to Hollywood, which has never hesitated to portray boys wielding firearms in historical dramas.
Dances with Wolves comes to mind. Remember the flashback scene, in which Kevin Costner's love interest suddenly recalls the Indian raid in which her family was killed? Her last memory is of her brother – a prepubescent boy – telling her to run for her life, as he readies his rifle to fire at the Indians.
No one gasped when they saw that. Nor does anyone seem shocked about children committing horrific acts of cinematic violence in gore fests such as the The Faculty and Scream I, II and III.
But children fighting for liberty in the American Revolution – that is true pornography, in some people's minds.
Leftists have always hated the Revolution. They hate it because it worked. It yielded so much freedom, prosperity and equality for Americans that, to this day, even the most skillful agitator has trouble persuading us that we need socialism.
So the left has counterattacked through the schools. Cynicism about our Revolution and Founding Fathers has been sown very deeply in our culture. Many film critics end up parroting the Marxist line without even knowing it.
"Don't mistake [The Patriot] for history," warns James Verniere in The Boston Herald. "It's a sales pitch for America."
"Overblown sanctimony and sentimalism," agrees Ann Hornaday in The Baltimore Sun, "as corny as the Fourth of July."
Verniere and Hornaday seem unaware that some of us still respect the Fourth of July, and see nothing wrong with "selling" America. The educational system has done its work well, with these two critics.
Hornaday attacks the filmmakers for failing to present a sufficiently ugly picture of white colonials.
The Gibson character Benjamin Martin is a wealthy planter whose farm is worked by black freedmen, not slaves. Hornaday calls this "comforting revisionism" that is "much more dishonest and damaging than anything that's sprung from Oliver Stone's imagination."
Damaging? To whom? To what? To the notion that America is an irredeemable racial hell? To the notion that every black person in colonial times was a slave? Neither of these beliefs would be accurate. Yet Hornaday implies it is Hollywood's duty to foist them on us anyway.
Jack Matthews of the Daily News objects to the movie's glorification of guns.
"In a scene that will put lead in the spine of Second Amendment fundamentalist Charlton Heston, Martin tears into his larder of unregistered muskets.. and wreaks havoc on those who would invade his home," writes Matthews acidly.
Yes, he does. And that is precisely why audiences cheer him. Viewers roar their approval each time Gibson dispatches a bad guy. It is driving the left crazy. They are enraged to see a "sales pitch for America" that actually sells.
Does The Patriot really falsify history? Not significantly. Its worst offense is to dress the Green Dragoons in red tunics when in fact they wore green. This annoyed me, throughout the film.
But more substantive accusations of historical inaccuracy fall flat. Critic Ben Steelman, for instance, says that The Patriot made the British too villainous. "The bloody British are credited with atrocities that would make the Serbian army retch," he writes. "This is anachronism… It would take later generations… to conceive of the notion of wars targeting civilians."
Mr. Steelman is wrong. Atrocities were common in the Revolutionary War. Patriotic mobs tarred and feathered loyalists, then set them aflame. Irregular bands of loyalist militia roved the countryside, slaughtering their rebel neighbors. The evil British dragoon played by Jason Isaacs is based upon a real villain, Col. Banastre Tarleton, notorious for massacring American civilians.
The best advice I can give you is to ignore the critics and see the movie for yourself. It is less great than Braveheart. But every scene is vibrant with passion and manhood, qualities as alien to leftwing scribblers as patriotism itself.