ninth symphony films - movie reviews

THE ALAMO (2004)

DIRECTOR  -  philip kaufman

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  historical

LENGTH  -  137 minutes

RELEASED  -  9 april 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the alamo

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $100,000,000
the alamo - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the alamo at

buy the dvd from the alamo at

based on the 1836 standoff between a group of texan and tejano men, led by davy crockett and jim bowie, and mexican dictator santa anna's forces at the alamo in san antonio, texas.


poster from the alamo
buy the poster

at 51 acres, the set was the largest and most expensive set ever built in north america to date.


picture from the alamo

picture from the alamo

picture from the alamo

picture from the alamo


three out of four possible stars

Though it sometimes feels more like a history lesson than a sweeping and engrossing epic, by its conclusion, The Alamo will have given the audience more than a few memorable moments, courtesy of an intense cast and a particularly gripping performance by Billy Bob Thornton, who plays the enigmatic Davy Crockett. What viewers will find as this film proceeds to its closing credits is a pace that doesn't find its rhythm until the final third of the movie, but that serves the well-known historical event honorably.

Almost reverent and too poetic in its opening scenes, the film seeks to make heroes of and pay somber devotion to a group of men whose greatest moments have not yet come. But this attention to character and the detail regarding personality and identity can be appreciated over the course of the film during the thirteen day siege whose excitement was not constantly at a fever pitch. Learning about why each of these men stayed at the Alamo with certain death staring them in the face is not an easy set of scenes to watch (it's kind of like knowing the Titanic's going down before you watch the film), but given the adroit performances from the varied cast members, the journey to annihilation becomes unforgettable.

An interesting paradox concerning this film's angle is the way in which it spends ample time showing the motivation and attitude of the famous "Napoleon of the West," General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, during his army's siege of the famous fort. Well known for his fickle allegiance and addiction to power, Santa Ana's tortuous political career was the result of an intense personal belief in his country's value, but a changeable allegiance to whatever political party best served his route to power. Played by Mexican Emilio Echevarrķa, the General is one of the strongest forces in the film and is brought to life with cunning and intelligence by the actor.

And instead of painting the entire Mexican army as a ruthless group of invaders, there are officers and members of the militia who question his ruthlessness without ever surrendering their love for Mexico. Rather than present the situation as a completely black and white affair, where members of both sides of the fight must choose one specific path or the other (the "right" or the "wrong" side), each person stays true to his love for his country. Each man's depth of character is not based on whether he's on the "right" side or the "wrong," but rather on how he conducts himself in battle.

Although Sam Houston, played wide-eyed by Dennis Quaid in top form, does indeed ride a white horse (check out an incredible picture of Quaid atop this horse here), there is much more emphasis placed on his character rather than on the fact that he's on the "right" side of this American-financed film. It's evident in some scenes that the film is told from an American point of view, but no man is completely perfect or heroic. Exploring the character flaws in each of the famous people portrayed in the film is really the focus of the entire first half of the film.

Probably the biggest enigma of the film is the character of Jim Bowie, played by Jason Patric. Seeming to warm to his role as the picture wears on (it almost seems like the film was shot in sequence as the actor seems more comfortable in the role as the film progresses), Patric has some of the greatest "physical" acting to do (Bowie has consumption). Young actor Patrick Wilson plays a young William Travis, leader of the militia, in the most predictable role (a very young man who "proves" his honor on the battlefield), and his performance is somber and concentrated.

Reminiscent of that famous John Ford Western, The Searchers, there is an ocean of thought brewing beneath the surface of each character in this film, from the most famous characters to the more nameless and less well-known personalities. And beyond the value a film like this might have in a high school history class, the gritty emotional and simply human details presented about each of the characters makes the film increasingly dramatic (rather than historical) as the scenes unfold.

Owing mightily to the musical score and chaotic battle scenes, the movie is realistic in its looks, but dramatic in tone, showing the filmmakers' attempts to gain favor with audience members who would not otherwise find enjoyment in an historical epic. Indeed, this film quite possibly could have been a true epic had the running time been shortened by just a reel or so. With the engaging performances, the dusty cinematography, and suitably written dialogue, the most of the film's creative and technical aspects are on target. Native Texans will probably cheer a time or two and fans of historical epics will find favor with the film in its last half, though the casual viewer might find its slow start tedious.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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