The Alamo John Lee Hancock

The Alamo John Lee Hancock
This movie was supposed to be released last Christmas as prestige Oscar-bait, but after a couple of reportedly miserable test screenings, the producers woke up to the fact that they had a stinker on their hands and held it back for re-editing. They got the director, John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), to cut a full hour from his original three-hour cut, which was probably wise, but the footage they chose to keep is so lacklustre that you have to wonder why'd they stop there?

The Alamo announces its tediousness right away, opening (by flashing forward) on a battlefield strewn with the bodies of beautiful young men, their cold eyes fixed to the heavens and mournful wood winds blaring on the soundtrack. We get the message instantly — "Oh, the waste! Oh, the humanity!" — but the camera keeps gliding from body to body and the lugubrious music keeps soaring until we're practically lathered in sentimental goo.

Every scene in this movie is designed to telegraph the vast importance of its subject matter, yet the filmmakers — in typical Hollywood irony — never seem particularly interested in telling us why it's important. Maybe that's because, for a lot of people —particularly us non-Americans — a battle that resulted in Texas being stolen away from the Mexicans (who were there first) and annexed as the 28th state isn't necessarily something to get all wistful and dewy-eyed about.

Perhaps anticipating the antipathy of international audiences, Hancock has the man in charge at the Alamo, Colonel William B. Travis (Patrick Wilson), resort to vague pronouncements like "whatever it is you are willing to fight and die for," he says to his men, "let us call that Texas!" See, now it's a universal story we all can identify with!

The performers, including Dennis Quaid as General Sam Houston and Jason Patric as the consumptive Jim Bowie, all struggle to transform history text blather into something resembling human speech, but only Billy Bob Thornton, as a modest, sombre Davy Crockett, manages to connect with the audience at all.

The Alamo is being promoted — feebly — as "The movie event you'll never forget," but if not for Thornton, you'd be hard pressed to remember a thing. (Touchstone/Buena Vista)