The Alamo (12A)
Time Out saysA post-9/11 rendition of a cherished moment of American martyrdom has you fearing the jingoistic worst, but this Disney-produced epic surprisingly refuses to bang the drum with complete conviction. In 1836, Texas was part of Mexico but sought independence, so Mexican general Santa Anna marched with thousands of uniformed men to put down the raggle-taggle band of rebels making their stand in a strategic fortress, The Alamo. The Texians (as they were then called) held out heroically, before being wiped out by superior numbers, the names of knife-wielding Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), and pioneer-turned-politician Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) passing into folklore along the way.
It’s the process of myth-making that interests director Hancock, as he shows Crockett struggling to live up to an inflated legend and the ailing Bowie as a shadow of the fearsome stories about him. Other pointed details include the black servants planning to defect to the Mexicans, who’ve already abolished slavery, and the prevarication of Texian leader Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), who could have sent reinforcements but feared possible defeat would hamper his political ambitions. That said, it’s not quite a fully revisionist affair, since Santa Anna’s portrayed as an over-brocaded megalomaniac, and the film can’t leave us without an audience-friendly upbeat coda. Nor is it as compellingly told as you’d hope, adopting the lugubrious pacing, maudlin Celtic-tinged music, and epistolary voiceovers beloved of TV documentarist Ken Burns, to ultimately deadening effect. Still, there’s a certain ambition and complexity, while Billy Bob’s Crockett, a self-doubting frontier raconteur with the Paganini touch on the fiddle, is a truly memorable creation.