The Alamo

The movie begins with a brief summary of the history of the Alamo mission (formerly a Franciscan mission in San Antonio, Texas, erected about 1722). Display title here, and begin action. It’s an intriguing trend to notice, how directors refuse to have a drawn out opening sequence with bubble-gum music while half of the credits are displayed. Actually, this is only happening with fast-paced films, but I ain’t a-arguin’. Movie starts with a rider reporting the fall of the Alamo to shocked soldiers of the Texan army. Sam Houston (portrayed by Dennis Quaid) receives the news, then stares at a candle flame in a pose of supplication. Enter the flashback (and one hell of a flash-back it is) and we find ourselves in Washington D.C. one year prior. The character of Davy Crockett (performed masterfully by Billy Bob Thornton) is introduced at a performance of a play based on himself. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) who joins Houston in downing a bottle of liquor. The movie moves swiftly to the Alamo, introducing other important characters like Lt. Col. William Barret Travis (Patrick Wilson) and … well that’s about the only other character you need. Santa Anna surprises them and a montage of the artillery siege commences. During this sequence, Crockett confronts his guilt over the death of a young Mexican soldier, tells some anecdotes, and has some good one liners. Then the Mexicans charge, and the Alamo falls. Amazingly, Crockett survives the final siege and is taken prisoner, only to executed at dawn. <FLASH> We return to Houston’s candle-lit vigil, where the story follows his “retreat” to the San Jacinto river, where he wipes out a portion of Santa Anna’s army in less than 18 minutes, forcing them into the river, in the final decisive victory for Texas independence. While the movie was good, there are some historical disagreements with this re-telling. First of all, it seems physically impossible that among the thousands of Mexican soldiers making the final charge at Crockett that 1) any of them knew who he was and 2) that they could tell it was him and not someone else in the dead of night surrounded by gun smoke. Secondly, they depicted Jim Bowie’s death as him reaching for his knife, rather than him having it with him and taking a few of those soldiers by knife. Finally, they didn’t have Bowie contract disease as a result of a hip injury suffered during the twelve-day siege, but rather just as a natural development. That makes sense, since they had a siege montage (at least, I’ve been assuming it was a montage, because the time spent was nowhere near twelve days) rather than a clipped twelve days. Bowie breaking his hip and contracting a disease would have screwed the flow. Other than those facts, this was a pretty accurate perspective of the events and the characters involved. The movie was a lot more realistic than John Wayne’s telling from the 60’s, mainly because the camera lens wasn’t color blind. While Wayne’s depiction was filled with white guys, this Alamo was filled with Texans and Tejanos, Negro slaves and … well that’s all there was, but still it’s a lot better now than 44 years ago. But there’s also the complex characters developed. Crocket is tired of living up to his legend, Bowie lost his Tejano wife and is still grieving, Houston’s a drinker, and Travis abandoned his pregnant wife when gambling debts got too high. It was cool to learn about the histories of the shallow portraits I had of these characters. This standard is the standard to which all Crockett stories are compared: the Disney standard. All children from the 1950’s onward had some contact with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen’s adventures as Davy Crockett and George E. Russel. My dad lived through the Coonskin Cap Craze, while I was merely influenced by the films, without going through a ridiculous phenomenon with raccoon based hats (it’s under my bed in a storage box). While the final episode (the battle of the Alamo) was highly dramatized, it influenced my viewing of John Wayne’s Alamo and this one as well. The best examples are of how pissed I was that Crockett was the only one taken prisoner and that Bowie didn’t take out any soldiers with his knife. Kenneth Toby (the original Bowie) waited for the soldiers to charge through the door, got two with his pistols, then grabbed his knife and took two more with him. Jason Patric on the other hand, fires both pistols, then reaches for the knife as he is bayoneted to death. Eh, maybe it’s more realistic in regards to reaction time.

Beyond that, all that’s left to talk about are cinematography and music. First, cinematography. It was beautiful. From beautifully framed shots of Texan landscape (the film was filmed entirely in Texas, by the way) to following the path of a cannonball, the cameraman captures the depth and scope of this epic. The images that are still with me are an almost still frame of that moment just before dawn, where the clouds turn that pretty pinkish-gray and everything is in shadow and the scan along the walls, where all you can see are the shadows of men. It was inspiring. Secondly, the music. It was very fitting, in my opinion. But not for everyone. …at least, that’s what I was going to say. See, looking for the album on I found a review that claimed that music didn’t sound epic enough. I would disagree, saying that while I wasn’t moved to tears, I don’t think I should have been moved to tears by the music. It accentuated points and added to the movie. But, being unable to find this review again, … my arguments stand.

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