Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Remember The Alamo?
What can be said about The Alamo that won’t fall on deaf ears? Most Texans (really, the only type of people worth a consideration) viewed The Alamo and enjoyed what they saw. Many even clapped or hooted and hollered at the end.
Last decade’s cinematic portrayal of the famous San Antonio suicide stand, unfortunately, had the power to sweep Texas audiences up in a sea of approval that regrettably blinded them to the fact that the movie they were cheering so hard for was pedestrian and uninspired.
Anyone who has sat in on Texas history in grade school knows the heroic story of the Alamo. Even some of you from lesser geographical locals can recite the fabled tale. For those not in the know, though, Mexico invited Americans to come and live in Texas. Americans moved in and brought their slaves. Dictator Santa Anna took over the Mexican government and passed new changes, among them a government-mandated religion and the banning of slaves. “Texicans” disagreed with the new rules and wanted to take Texas for themselves. So, Santa Anna sent troops to quell the rebellion and the battle eventually moved to the San Antonio mission, the Alamo.
The most recent film to detail that battle gives a brief rundown of the background before moving into the days surrounding the 1836 standoff at the Alamo. It does a good job of introducing important figures in Texas history within the first few minutes of the movie. The director notably chooses to portray the legendary figures not as the demigods they have become in Texas history, but as real men, giving them the vices and weaknesses that help humanize them.
Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) is an alcoholic who lacks the confidence in his men. Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) is running from a failed election and his own insecurities. James Bowie (Jason Patric) is a loud braggart of a man whose life is troubled by problems with gambling and alcohol. William Travis (Patrick Wilson) ran away from his family in another state to lead a battle with men who don’t even want him.
The movie wasn’t named Conversations at the Alamo, though, and the real draw for audiences is the battle. The siege of the Alamo is a cookie-cutter example of how to make a successful war movie. Take one group of ragtag soldiers, add a dastardly villain, a bombastic score and a splattering of poetic shots filled with moderate gore and you have the gist of The Alamo.
There are a few shots that stand out. One memorable moment occurs when a young child is standing on a hill on the outskirts of San Antonio, watching cannonballs fly and soldiers battle for their lives in the mission like tiny ants.
The movie makes no fuss about keeping its ending a secret — one of the first lines in the movie is “They are all dead” — so neither will this review try and hide the fact that The Alamo didn’t end in group hugs.
Travis’ death is remarkable if just for the fact that there is a clear lack of attention to it. A single bullet ends the life of a character who the audience just witnessed write a letter to his son. This showcases beautifully the sheer anonymity of war. No matter how much a story focused on one particular character, Travis’ death is just a fraction of the entire battle. In the end, everybody (no matter how anonymous they may have been in the larger scheme of the battle) met the same end.
One of the most disappointing parts of The Alamo is the lack of attention that went into humanizing the Mexican forces. The movie may have been set from the Americans’ perspective, but there was absolutely no motivation given for the Mexicans’ siege except in Santa Anna’s hammy speeches that include everything but the evil laughter needed to make a mustache-twirling villain. Audiences are given a cold, ruthless portrayal of Santa Anna but no reasoning behind his advancing forces. It seems the director only felt the need to set up a villain that audiences could hiss at and gave no consideration to the fact that the Mexicans were merely trying to take back what was being stolen from them.
What audiences were given with The Alamo is a cash cow attempt to bank on the recent surge in patriotism. What audiences were not given is an original exploration into an epic part of Texas’ history. Maybe that’s why last decade’s film is almost all but forgotten.
Robert Saucedo is a proud Texan. Don’t mess with him. Follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.