The Alamo

A shapeless mess of a truncated epic, this painfully careful account of the siege and defeat of the ragtag forces defending a fortified San Antonio mission complex whose symbolic importance far outstripped its intrinsic value tries to be all things to all people and winds up a tedious muddle. 1836: An amalgamation of Anglo settlers and long-time Tejano residents...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A shapeless mess of a truncated epic, this painfully careful account of the siege and defeat of the ragtag forces defending a fortified San Antonio mission complex whose symbolic importance far outstripped its intrinsic value tries to be all things to all people and winds up a tedious muddle. 1836: An amalgamation of Anglo settlers and long-time Tejano residents of the Texas territory is loosely united by shared dislike of the centralized Mexican government under the iron rule of military hero Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (played as a moustache-twirling popinjay by Emilio Echevarria). Hard-drinking, former Tennessee governor Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), a tireless booster for the area's natural beauty and potential for economic development, commands a small revolutionary army but opposes rash declarations of independence from Mexico. Meanwhile, aristocratic South Carolinian Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson) is dispatched to the Alamo mission complex in San Antonio to lead the military troops stationed there. He immediately butts heads with ailing adventurer Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), who commands the rowdy civilian militiamen but is rapidly losing ground to chronic lung disease. Unbeknownst to any of them, Santa Anna's army is advancing steadily on San Antonio, and by the time backwoodsman-turned-congressman Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) has joined the ragtag crew gathered at the Alamo, the Mexican army is at the gates. Travis sends messengers pleading for reinforcements, but over the course of a 13-day siege, only a few additional fighting men materialize. The Alamo falls, and Houston's forces retaliate when Santa Anna marches farther into the Texas territory. It took three screenwriters — Leslie Bohem (creator of the TV miniseries Taken), Stephen Gaghan (TRAFFIC) and director John Lee Hancock — to wrestle this sprawling story into incoherence and conclude that war is hell and everyone suffers. A troubled production built on a contentious and dramatically difficult piece of American history (it's hard to make rousing entertainment out of failure), the project was repeatedly reconceived then recut after completion, which no doubt accounts in part for the lamentable pacing. It's so slack it feels interminable, but it's too short to flesh out the complicated set of historical and individual circumstances that converged at the Alamo. Some fine performances are lost in the mire; only Thornton's vigorous, demythologizing turn as Crockett, a man ruefully aware of his obligation to live up to a legend he had little hand in creating, truly stands out.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: A shapeless mess of a truncated epic, this painfully careful account of the siege and defeat of the ragtag forces defending a fortified San Antonio mission complex whose symbolic importance far outstripped its intrinsic value tries to be all things to all… (more)

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