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Laramie Movie Scope: The Alamo

A ponderous historical epic

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 30, 2004 -- “The Alamo” is a ponderous historical epic about the famous battle for Texas independence. It is a worthy addition to films about this battle. It is less romantic, but probably more historically accurate than previous cinematic efforts about this battle, but it is also less exciting and dramatic. Previous versions of this story include the famous 1955 made-for-TV version, part of the “Davey Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier” series, starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. That version of the story created a national phenomenon (I was one of those millions of kids who wore a coonskin hat). The other major version was the epic 1960 film version starring screen legend John Wayne. It was as long and slow-moving as the 2004 version.

The 2004 version of “The Alamo” stars Billy Bob Thornton of “Bad Santa” as Davy Crockett, one of the legendary characters who died at the Alamo, along with James Bowie (played by Jason Patric of “Narc”), inventor of the famous Bowie knife. Dennis Quaid of “The Rookie” stars as legendary Texas hero and politician Sam Houston, who did not fight at the Alamo, but was involved with another famous battle with the same Mexican army later. Although this film is about the battle for the Alamo, the actual battle takes up only a small portion of the movie. Most of the film actually centers around the characters. We learn a lot about Crockett, Bowie and others at the Alamo, about their motivations and backgrounds. We also learn something about the general commanding the Mexican army, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarría of “Die Another Day”).

Previous films have portrayed the American defenders as one-dimensional heroes and the Mexicans as faceless villains. This movie shows characters on both sides who are more complex, with more complicated motivations than you might expect to see in a Hollywood film. The Americans are not all good and the Mexicans are not all bad. Crockett is perhaps the most complex character of all, he stops one battle with fiddle music. He waxes eloquently on the motivations of men in battle, and he hints that the main reason he decided to make his last stand at the Alamo was because he felt the need to live up to his own inflated reputation, which by then had already been enhanced in popular stage plays and tall tales. How Davey Crockett died has been a matter of dispute among historians. The movie takes a position on Crockett's death which is different than previous film versions.

The final battle for the Alamo is quite short, but intense. A later battle between the Mexican army and an army led by Huston is also short, but it was also short in history, lasting only about 18 minutes. The battle sequences are well-staged. The acting is generally good, headlined by Thornton's great performance as Crockett. It is not his usual kind of character, but he pulls it off amazingly well. Unfortunately, the other characters in the film are bland. This film could have used more humor and the script needed to be punched up and tightened. It just runs on too long. This film is mainly for people who are interested in history. The movie rates a C.

By the way, I saw this film at the Star Cinema in Stayton, Oregon, where I used to watch movies as a kid. The theater had been closed for a time recently, but has been reopened by very competent, innovative local owners, Jeff and Robin Mexico. This great old theater (built in 1949) has been upgraded with comfortable seats and a modern surround sound system. A prize drawing is held after every show. The staff is also very courteous. I highly recommend the place.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)