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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
More Courage under Fire
by Betty Jo Tucker

Depicting important historic battles holds considerable appeal for many filmmakers. In The Alamo, director John Lee Hancock takes his turn at filming a momentous battle from American history that resulted in the deaths of so many courageous men -- including Jim Bowie, William Travis and the legendary Davy Crockett. It’s a beautifully photographed movie, but one marred by the serious miscasting of Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, a man who misses the battle, then makes up for it later by soundly defeating General Santa Anna and his elegantly clad Mexican troops.

Perhaps Hancock thought Quaid could play any part after working with the talented actor on The Rookie. Although Quaid delivered a brilliant performance in that exceptional film, he portrays Houston with a perpetual scowl on his face and shows emotion primarily by shouting. I believe Quaid would have made a better Davy Crockett. But Billy Bob Thornton got that juicier part. Come to think of it, Thornton should have been cast as Houston. Switch these actors and voila! -- a more intriguing movie.

And yet, The Alamo would still be disjointed, especially in its handling of Santa Anna’s character. Some scenes featuring Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria) didn’t make sense. During one of those scenes, the General and his officers meet in a room with a table where a delicious wedding cake sits, half eaten. Where did that come from? After viewing the DVD extras, now I know that cake was part of a sham wedding set up to ensnare a lovely young senorita. I wish the deleted Santa Anna scenes had remained. Granted, the movie would be longer -- but the extra time would make it more coherent.    

Hancock, working from a script by Leslie Bohem (Dante's Peak) and Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), serves up an Alamo populated with ordinary men caught up in the famous battle through a series of unfortunate circumstances. Travis (Patrick Wilson), placed in temporary command, discovers a strength that surprises himself and his men; Bowie (Jason Patric) loses his physical strength but not his courage; and Crockett makes fun of his legendary exploits while showing bravery beyond the call of duty.  

The DVD extras provide a closer look at these famous heroes as well as information about the Texas roots of Hancock, Quaid and others who worked on the movie. Being a part of this film obviously meant a  great deal to all of them. A behind-the-scenes “making of” featurette is also included. As always, it’s particularly fascinating to find out how the battle scenes were choreographed. For the most viewing pleasure, I recommend watching these DVD bonus materials before playing the film.

(Released by Touchstone Home Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for sustained intense battle sequences. All bonus material unrated.)

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