The Alamo (April 7/04)
The Alamo documents what's undoubtedly an important moment in American history, but fails to make it relevant for viewers without any knowledge of the event. While the film is technically proficient and the performances are passable, there's absolutely nothing here for the average viewer to latch onto; the movie is curiously flat, void of any emotional context (think of this as the anti-Braveheart).
The storyline involves a group of American soldiers - including Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and James Bowie (Jason Patric) - charged with the task of defending the Alamo, an unfinished fort in Texas. At stake is the ownership of Texas itself, which previously belonged to Mexico. Meanwhile, General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) is leading a battalion of men to the site, where they'll assist in the battle.
The first hour of The Alamo is primarily devoted to setup in which characters do nothing but talk, and the majority of their conversations are of absolutely no consequence. Such discussions are obviously meant to establish these characters to the extent that we'll root for them later on, but it just doesn't work. Despite the best efforts of the admittedly charismatic performers, none of these people ever become compelling enough to warrant our continued interest in their exploits. This is particularly true of the film's central character, a certain Colonel William Barrett Travis (played by relative newcomer Patrick Wilson). Despite his eerie resemblance to Cole Hauser, Wilson just isn't able to keep up with folks like Thornton and Quaid and ultimately comes off as somewhat bland by comparison.
It's not really his fault, though. The script - by Leslie Bohem, Stephen Gaghan, and John Lee Hancock (who also directed) - doesn't allow for the actors to really become these characters; there's a forced quality to the dialogue, as though the writers were more interested in getting the story from one point to another. Yet with all the chatting going on, there are still several unexplained elements in the story (ie a group of Mexican rebels are executed; what were they rebelling against?) that will undoubtedly confuse those that aren't versed in Alamo lore.
And then there's the infamous battle at the Alamo, presumably meant to act as the highlight of the film (though another half hour of screentime follows rather anti-climactically). Like the "Helm's Deep" sequence in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the fight at the Alamo is rendered virtually incomprehensible primarily because it occurs at night. Though it fares a little bit better than The Two Towers (which added rain to the mix, which just made everything even more obscured), the combination of darkness and the PG-13 rating turns the sequence into a muddled mess of torches and discharged muskets.
Would the film have been better had Ron Howard directed, as he was originally supposed to? Doubtful, especially considering Hancock does an effective - if altogether bland - job of bringing this pointless story to the big screen.