Film Reviews


By • Apr 9th, 2004 •

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QUOTE: Forget it.

The Alamo may have indeed changed the course of American history but that does not mean that another re-telling is necessary.

In 1836 fewer than 200 men held the Alamo fort for 13 days against thousands of Mexican soldiers led by dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (Emilio Exhevarria). Three men were in command: Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson), Col. James Bowie (Jason Patric), and “living legend” frontiersman David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton). General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) stayed at a safe distane but called for Texas independence from Mexico and, ultimately, annexation as the 28th state in the Union.

The devastating defeat at the Alamo caused a furor and only then did Houston lead 910 pioneers with the battle cry “Remember the Alamo” and defeat Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto (which lasted only eighteen minutes).

Written by Leslie Bohem and Stephen Gaghan and John Lee Hancock, THE ALAMO is crushed by its own heavy-handed solemnity. Hancock can certainly direct exciting battle scenes but savages his cast. I caught even the extras overacting.

The problem is the principal casting. Wilson portrays Travis as an intractable, soulless blue-blood. His face betrays nothing of his miscreant, ruthless background. Thornton may have the accent down pat, but Crockett was not only charismatic, he was the men’s passionate flashpoint for staying and fighting against horrendous odds. The press notes say he was an “international superstar.” Thornton wanders around waiting for his thoughtful, yet glamorous, close-ups. Quaid has one expression: troubled concern.

As portrayed here, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and Houston are bores.

Until we get to The Alamo we have to waste time watching old men with bad facial hair dance and talk politics. Everyone’s nostrils flair. It certainly was not clear to me what was at stake. Apparently, neither did the U.S. No matter how many letters Travis wrote pleading for help, nobody came. Well, 34 untrained men came but it was a mere token, not taken seriously by Travis, Bowie, and Crockett.

According to the Touchstone Pictures press notes, the state of Texas was originally part of the Spanish territory known as Mexico. It did not belong to the U.S. Mexico seceded from Spain taking with it the vast land holdings of Coahuila-y-Tejas (our state of Texas). In 1824, Mexico formed a constitutional government and granted land and tax advantages to Anglos encouraging them to move to the state. They were to become Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics. However, the citizens soon wanted their own republic and prepared for war. Santa Anna’s brother-in-law was defeated and the Texians secured the town and the fort. Santa Anna then led an army 360 miles in just 30 days to do battle against the rebels. They knew he was coming.

So this is about a land grab.

Gen. Sam Houston was not interested in sacrificing more troops to Santa Anna’s ambitions and informed his officers to abandon the Alamo mission. Leadership fell to the inexperienced 26-year old Travis. Bowie and Crockett defied Houston’s orders and stayed. Crockett serenaded the enemy. Santa Anna took no prisoners in the massacre.

I called Roy Frumkes,’s managing editor. I know he is a huge Alamo fanatic. I was shocked when Roy told me how exciting and brilliantly cinematic the story was. This rendering does not do the story justice. Roy discussed the film’s rocky history: Ron Howard was supposed to direct but his budget came in at $125 million. Howard wanted to do an “R” version. Russell Crowe was attached to play Gen. Sam Houston. Wisely, Howard stepped aside to co-produce and Crowe passed.

Sometimes actors read the script!

Travis, Bowie, Crockett and Houston are just not interesting characters. According to history as well as legend, these four men were complicated, fascinating, and egotistical. What happened to them in the screenplay attributed to three writers?

Newmarket Press has published THE ALAMO: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY OF THE EPIC FILM (Hardcover: $29.95, paperback: $19.95) that includes 125 color photos from the film and the complete screenplay.

Sam Houston – Dennis Quaid
Davy Crockett – Billy Bob Thornton
Jim Bowie – Jason Patric
William Travis – Patrick Wilson
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – Emilio Echevarria
Juan Seguin – Jordi Molla

Directed by – John Lee Hancock
Written by – Leslie Bohem and Stephen Gaghan and John Lee Hancock

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