Film: 'The Alamo'
Good performances don't stave off film's self-destruction
"Don't mess with Texas" is the leading charge, as producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer release their remake of "The Alamo" (the first was the 1960 film starring John Wayne). "The Alamo" tells the story of the 13-day siege of the former mission in San Antonio in 1836, right in the midst of the Texas Revolution. The film has excellent performances by Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton and Jason Patric as well as newcomer Patrick Wilson, but lacks the accuracy necessary for a historical film.
The tale follows Quaid as Gen. Sam Houston (the role originally belonged to Russell Crowe) as he attempts to build a Texan army and gain Texas independence from the Mexicans and their military dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarria). Houston is soon joined by folk heroes James Bowie (Patric) and Davey Crockett (Thornton) in this historical piece.
But any attempts to remain completely factual are blown out the window in the first five minutes, when an onlooker refers to Crockett and Houston as "destined for the White House," despite the fact that the presidential mansion did not officially gain that moniker until 1901, 65 years later. But the historical inaccuracies do not end here, as the movie creates its own version of the events, built off facts known today.
Wilson is the freshest face in the film as unsure Lt. Col. William "Buck" Travis, who is given command of the Alamo shortly after arriving. From early on, the audience is made aware of his dislike for Bowie, who commands the volunteers, and Travis, a regular army officer. Throughout the film, these characters grow together, mainly around Bowie's illness, which keeps him in bed during the siege.
But half an hour into the film, your chance to meet all the characters is over, the Mexicans arrive in the hills around San Antonio and the siege begins.
The battle scenes in the film rely on historical accuracy from the troop movements to the smoke rising from the guns, which makes vision difficult. However, the filmmakers take liberty with the actions of those inside the Alamo, working off misconceptions of the events. One such myth is the weakness of Travis in commanding the troops, although historians have found that he was well respected by both his own men and the volunteers.
Quaid gives the most compelling performance as Houston, while Thornton comes in second in his portrayal of Crockett as the reluctant warrior struggling to live up to the legend. Bowie also must live up to the stories that surround him, but the film gives him little chance to do this; instead, it has him continually reflecting on his wife, who passed away of unknown causes.
The film lacks a definite flow because it begins after the siege is over and then steps back in time a year. The passage of time isn't communicated well as the battle draws near. Later, during the siege, Crockett visits Bowie, in bed dying, and lays guns at either side of him. The next time we see Bowie he is up and walking around, giving orders and then he returns to his near-death state. When the final attack by the Mexicans comes, Bowie is back in bed with the guns beside him.
For those looking for a compelling historical action film, "The Alamo" comes close, but not close enough.