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April 13, 2004 > The Alamo

The Alamo

Director: John Lee Hancock

In 1836, Mexican dictator Santa Anna launched an attack on the Texan fort of the Alamo in San Antonia. 200 men, led by a handful of American legends slightly passed their prime, were pitted against a force of thousands. With the Texans determined to stand their ground and to never surrender, the battle of the Alamo resulted. This is the premise for John Lee Hancock's re envisioning of one of the most decisive moments in the history of Texas. Heralded as the most historically accurate of the Alamo films, the movie goes to great lengths to strip its characters of any mythological context. While this may seem as though it would detract from the overall entertainment value of the film, it provides a genuine, honest representation of the historical figures involved with the battle of the Alamo.

The representations of such figures as William Travis, Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, and Sam Houston are much more human than some other films might suggest, as they are lacking in extravagant exaggerations that are instead replaced with very real, very believable weaknesses. A downside to this process is that it takes quite a large portion of the beginning of the film to establish the premise. The first hour of the film is spent establishing that Houston is a reckless drunk, Bowie is a drunk with Typhoid, Crocket is a national celebrity and opportunist, and Travis is a divorced man struggling with internal conflicts.

Santa Anna is portrayed as a ruthless, sometimes superfluously evil character. There are points in the film where you question whether or not it was necessary, or accurate, to portray him in such a way. Overall, the characters seem believable enough, which has its ups and downs. History class has taught us that historical accuracy often leads to boredom. Fortunately, the film has a few saving graces that keep it afloat. The interaction between the figures at the Alamo is often insightful and interesting. Billy Bob Thornton masterfully portrays Davy Crocket, who shows up to San Antonio thinking that the battle is over, and suddenly finds himself as a major source of morale for the men around him, as he is faced with trying to live up to the legends perpetuated about him during that time. Thankfully and expectedly so, Crocket is on camera most of the screen time, as the audience bares witness to the fall of one of America's first legends.

Not only does The Alamo attempt to get its facts straight in the name of accuracy, the studio built a 50 plus acre set for the filming of the movie - the largest set ever created in North America. They also ordered authentic muskets and cannons, so any smoke or muzzle flash in the film is as real as they were at the actual battle. The final battle is masterfully shot and choreographed. Hancock creates some amazing visuals using lighting, and the hopelessness and shear brutality of the conflict really show through.

While The Alamo is little slow, there's enough context there to keep the movie running all the way up to the final battle. With the honest portrayal of the pivotal figures, and the added plus of Billy Bob Thornton as Crocket, The Alamo is well-worth a viewing.

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