starring Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson, Jordi Molla and Emilio Echevarria
written by Leslie Bohen, Stephen Gaghan and John Lee Hancock
directed by John Lee Hancock
The story of the Alamo is an American legend. It is an old Mexican mission in San Antonio, Texas, where Texas‘patriots’ faced off against the Mexican army of General Santa Anna in 1836, and were massacred. At the time, Texas was Mexican territory. American settlers were set on claiming it as their own independent country and seceding from Mexico. The Alamowas a failure for the “Texians,” although General Sam Houston later defeated Santa Anna’s army (in an 18-minute battle) and exchanged the captured General’s life for the ceding of Texasby Mexicoto the American settlers. So in 1836 Texas became, briefly, an independent nation with its own President, before becoming the 28thstate of the USA in 1845.
In popular American imagination The Alamo has long stood as a symbol of American resistance to foreign dictatorship. Several of those who died there are American pioneer folk heroes - including Davy Crocket of Tennessee, and frontiersman Jim Bowie, famous for his big knife (which might have been compensation for some personal shortcoming). Discerning people know better than to buy into the folktales of these men, and I think this movie might portray them more realistically than any Hollywood treatment ever has: wild, disreputable drunks, half of them dying of consumption (tuberculosis), who got their fame by massacring Indians. In other words, sociopaths bent on stealing land that was legally and legitimately Mexican territory because they believed in their right as white Americans to take it. It was more vicious, unrestrained frontier hooliganism than it was the high-principled national philosophy of America’s founding fathers.
I endured the movie without ever liking it very much. Stripped of the patriotic glow of hagiography the story is really pathetic. The acting was mediocre - lots of moody scowling and poor accents - and I wasn’t comfortable with the costumes and sets. This was thirty years before the day of the blue-clad mighty Union Army that defeated the Confederates in the Civil War. There are no carbine rifles and Colt Peacemaker revolvers. There are no uniforms at all, just a bland collection of various pragmatic frontier fashions topped by some really nasty hats. The firearms - muzzle loading muskets - are much more antique than what we usually see in American Western films. And, the point here about American Westerns is that much of the American Western mythology - bank robbers and outlaws, cowboys and Indians, frontier sheriffs and cattle rustlers, the Gunfight at the OK Coral, corrupt lawmen in the pay of wealthy ranchers and railway men, etc. - are post bellum occurrences. Civil War veterans forming their own disillusioned Lost Generation, trained to kill and cynical with the horror of the most mechanized killing project in human history up to that point - moved West into frontier land that was not yet developed enough to contain them and their pathologies. Then, for more than twenty years they lived the lifestyles that created the Western genre in American culture.
The film falls flat when it tries to create a feeling for the fallen, massacred Texians and their aspirations of statehood against the oppression of foreign tyranny by showing their dead, battle-stained faces in the dirt to the strains of what is supposed to be moving music. It doesn’t work for me.