2000 in Film, Film, Writing

THE PATRIOT: an entertaining, if troubling, slice of jingoistic, historical fantasy (2000 in Film #25)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of June 30th, Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot

If we have seen American cinema across the year 2000 attempt in some way to reconcile America’s place in history as we enter a new millennium, The Patriot is heavily concerned in re-writing and re-conceptualising it.

The Patriot wasn’t actually the biggest box office hit of this weekend, coming in a little short (unexpectedly) of Wolfgang Petersen’s The Perfect Storm. Though both are highly different movies playing in different eras with very different concepts, both do share a particular, definable ‘Americanism’ that even for Hollywood is powerful and potent. The Perfect Storm, telling the story of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel out of Massachusetts that sank during the so-called ‘Perfect Storm’ of 1991, boasts a tremendous cast of character actors spearheaded by a grumpy George Clooney and hot-headed Mark Wahlberg but suffers under the weight of melodramatic exceptionalism, overblowing a far more tragic real life story for rousing, heroic and ultimately bittersweet Hollywood effect. Jaws by way of Twister and saccharine, Lifetime drama.

Both this and Roland Emmerich’s take on the American Revolutionary War share a dubious claim on historical accuracy in the same vein of U-571 earlier in the year, and to an extent Gladiator, except the latter looked more inside out on what American exceptionalism actually means at the turn of the 21st century than either of these two films. The Perfect Storm, which—in a very local side note—had its UK premiere at a recently opened Midlands entertainment centre called Star City, with Clooney and Wahlberg in attendance, is now remembered more for the nautical effects—particularly the gigantic wave that sinks the Andrea Gail—than the overwrought script and performances, which pitch these real-life sailors as reckless, masculine sea lovers who needlessly throw themselves into the eye of the storm not just for bounty but for male obsession. It may have performed more strongly at the box office but The Patriot lingers further in the minds’ eye, serving as the first significant Hollywood take in some years on America’s bloody, foundational history.

In truth, the timing of The Patriot, and what it brings to 2000’s ongoing exploration of America’s past and future, is especially timely.

Continue reading “THE PATRIOT: an entertaining, if troubling, slice of jingoistic, historical fantasy (2000 in Film #25)”

2000 in Film

U-571: well-executed but troubling wartime historical revisionism (2000 in Film #16)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of April 21st, Jonathan Mostow’s U-571

U-571 is a film perhaps better remembered for the dangers of playing too fast and loose with established history, particularly wartime history, than for the quality of Jonathan Mostow’s movie itself.

The plot, which sees Matthew McConaughey’s untested American lieutenant forced to seize command of the titular German u-boat, the U-571, during a daring mission to capture the Enigma code breaking machine which allowed Alan Turing and his Bletchley Park boffins in the United Kingdom turn the tide of World War Two, stoked enough ire to reach even the House of Commons, the seat of the British government. Labour MP Brian Jenkins called it an “affront” to the British sailors who *actually* retrieved the Enigma machine in such dangerous conditions, and ruling Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed at the time. “We hope that people realise these are people that, in many cases sacrificed their lives in order that this country remained free”.

While cinema plays an important role in our culture and society, it is rare that a Hollywood film designed as popcorn entertainment gets onto Prime Minister’s Questions, such was the frustration by government officials when U-571 arrived in the UK in June. The true story behind the events of Mostow’s film—in which the British vessel HMS Bulldog (as British a naval command could ever be called) who disabled and seized German submarine U-110 to retrieve the device, risking their lives in the process—is paid a sort-of lip service at the end of U-571’s credits, in which the film admits it was ‘inspired’ by true events, but the damage would have been done. For millions of Americans, history would have been revised by Mostow’s film.

And by no means one of the box-office heavy hitters of the year 2000, U-571 doubled its budget in receipts and stands, up to this point, as one of the more successful debut entries of the year. People turned out for this. People would have heard what it had to say.

Continue reading “U-571: well-executed but troubling wartime historical revisionism (2000 in Film #16)”