Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Alamo

Went to see The Alamo last night with friends. I hadn't been anxiously expecting its release, but I saw that Ebert gave it a decent review, as did my buddy Eric, who saw it at a reviewers' screening.

Billy Bob Thornton's pretty good as Davy Crockett, the man who struggles to live up to the ideals of his myth. Crockett's a man famous on both sides of the Texian/Mexican conflict. He's also a man who came to San Antonio thinking the bulk of the fighting was finished, wanting only to settle in a place where his he's more of a man than a spectacle.

This is really the type of character Billy Bob's best suited for: A guy who's at odds with the world view of him, but a guy who all the same doesn't want to fight the world, he just wants it to let him be himself.

Here's the thing: Jacob in A Simple Plan, Karl from Sling Blade or even Willie in Bad Santa all want to make their way, but are held back by some force within. The difference this time around is that David Crockett's demons are molded more by positive perceptions of him by outsiders, rather than negative ones.

To this point, this little Karl/Jacob/Bad Santa track in his career hasn't fallen into being repetitive, though he's not far from the corner Kevin Costner long ago turned, when he started making nothing but Me Against the World pictures.

Besides, Billy Bob could always fall back on the other character he'll play: the loud, obnoxious southern guy who doesn't give a shit what you think who'll occasionally spin off a funny saying. Think Primary Colors or Intolerable Cruelty. Or even that Hearts Afire show he did with John Ritter and Markie Post.

(On the Hearts Afire, Billy Bob had what is still one of my favorite TV line readings. He's just finished gloating about Ritter's and Post's characters having to do something he deems unpleasant, when he realizes he's stuck babysitting. Disgusted, he asks an empty room: What the Hell Am I so Damn Happy About?)

There's also a very nice sequence involving Crockett and his fiddle. Each night, before Santa Anna's cannon bombardment begins, a band of drums and trumpets from the Mexican army serenades the troops and the Alamo. After many nights of hearing the song, Crockett declares that he knows what's missing from the tune. He pulls his fiddle from its sack, and on walls of the mission begins playing in harmony.

It sounds hokey when I write it. But it's really kind of a neat scene.

Patrick Wilson's Bill Travis is interesting. A man struggling to come to grips with his own life, perhaps ill-suited to the position of command, who is thrust into the position of authority at the most inopportune of times. The friction between himself and Jim Bowie is well played. I liked his inner conflict. He's struggling to convince himself he's suited to lead as much as he is the men.

The battle sequences are pretty intense. They weren't as well put together as I thought they could be, but they were effective nonetheless. Loud. Bloody. Cannons blowing men away at close range.

The bad in the movie?

I don't care for Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston much. If acting is walking around with a menacing frown all the time, and talking as gruffly and condescendingly as possible to everybody, then I'm the best actor in the world.

Plus, Houston gets this weird Man of Destiny thing going toward the end of the movie, where he's foreseen where he'll defeat Santa Anna, but not when. It just seemed weak.

Jim Bowie doesn't have a lot to do, except lie in bed riddled with the Consumption (or Typhoid, or Pneumonia, one or any, by his words). He plays a nice foil to Travis, early on, and he's got a lot in common with Crockett, as a man who can't live up to his legend (the difference between the two being, Bowie doesn't even try). Bowie spends the bulk of the movie in bed, with little to do but have everyone come by and offer him kind words. Ironically, he's shown to be the one with the most to fight for, at least in that land. He's the one who can do the least. His part wasn't bad. Maybe I'm just disappointed.

But ultimately, I enjoyed the movie. It's not 3 1/2 stars good, like Ebert says. But I liked it.


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