The Alamo

There is something heroic and iconic about The Alamo, where, in 1836, close to two hundred men defended this old mission for almost two weeks against a Mexican force of thousands. As everybody knows, they lost and died, but they died fighting for what they thought was important. It is a great story to tell, full of colorful characters and impossible odds, and the latest film version does not do it justice. Director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, Hard Time Romance) had his work cut out for him. Logistically, this is a huge step up from his last film, The Rookie. Still, Disney liked him well enough that when Ron Howard stepped out, Hancock was their man. The original release date was Christmas, but it was ominously pushed back, even after print advertising with the original date began. The given reason was that the film needed more work. Well, after watching it, it still could use a little more.

The battle scenes are impressive and somewhat epic, but The Alamo just does not convey the heroism of its the defenders. Hancock and his co-writers Leslie Bohem (Dante's Peak, Daylight) and Stephen Gaghan (Abandon, Traffic) focus on four men primarily to humanize the story, and give audiences people they could relate to. Yet, overall, The Alamo is strangely inert on emotion. The acting is decent, the production is good, the script is fairly historical, but it feels like Hancock and co left their hearts at home. People can watch The Alamo all they want, they just won't be caught up in the story like they should be. It moves along a little slowly at first, them the pace picks up as the siege begins.

The four primary characters are Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid, Cold Creek Manor, Far From Heaven), Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa, Love, Actually), William Travis (Patrick Wilson, My Sister's Wedding), and James Bowie (Jason Patric, Narc, Your Friends & Neighbors). Crockett (who prefers "David"), Bowie (of the bowie knife fame), and Travis are all stuck in the Alamo as General Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria, Die Another Day, Y Tu Mama Tambien) descends upon the fort. Houston watches from afar, trying to help but held back both by governmental inaction and a lack of qualified help. He is fighting his reputation of a coward. This also means that Quaid has a lesser role in the film, appearing primarily at the end.

The other three characters have more screen time, but Thornton is the only one with any substance. His Crockett is a reluctant hero, trying to reconcile his widely read exploits with the truth. He came to the Alamo looking for land, not expecting a battle. Travis and Bowie immediately dislike each other, but this only means that Hancock will add some meaningful male bonding later. And since The Alamo is a movie of today, that means that it must be politically correct. So the cast includes some slaves and a Tejano (Jordi Molla, Bad Boys II, Blow). The Mexican army gets the short end of the stick, portrayed primarily as a huge crowd bent on destruction. Echevarria's Santa Anna is a sneering evil antagonist, but not much else. So while there is a lot of stuff happening on the screen, Thornton is the only reason to watch The Alamo.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 17 minutes, English and Spanish with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for sustained intense battle sequences.

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