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Forget the Alamo, please

'The Alamo' reduces history to 'good guys' versus 'bad guys.'

By David SterrittFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / April 9, 2004



How many last stands does the Alamo have to make before Hollywood finally gives this historical standby a rest?

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Moviemakers have been telling the story of the besieged fortress since the days of silent film, and this week's version probably won't be the last. But here's hoping I'm wrong - at least until someone comes up with a truly accurate account.

"The Alamo," starring Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett, has been talked up as a sophisticated movie that recognizes the Mexican view of what happened back in 1836, when members of a small Republic of Texas enclave died defending an old church building they saw (wrongly) as the only shield between Texan dreams of Manifest Destiny and the ruthless fortitude of Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.

A version of "The Alamo" that acknowledged patriotism on both sides would be thought-provoking - as would a version that showed the defense of slavery as a "value" the Alamo troops were defending.

This isn't what Disney has given us, though.

The movie does include a bit of debunking, as when Crockett admits his inexperience in warfare, describes his disgust at an Indian massacre he participated in, and reveals that he only wears his legendary coonskin cap because he liked the look of it when he saw a costumed actor impersonating him in a stage act. It also shows a couple of slaves in the Texan group, one of whom grumbles for three seconds about how absurd it would be for him to stick around when the fighting starts.

Instead of respecting the Mexican perspective, though, the film portrays Santa Ana as a cheesy, take-no-prisoners tyrant who struts like a peacock, says the lives of his soldiers are worth as much as "chickens," and treats his china set more carefully than his combat plans. Whatever truth this may have is forfeited by the movie's trite, exaggerated tone.

The bulk of the picture is taken up with stagy dialogue and fighting scenes, postcard-pretty sunset shots, and bits of old-time music - including a moment when Crockett somehow drowns out Mexican drummers by lustily playing his violin a quarter of a mile away.

In short, it's dull, derivative, and as lifelike as a heap of historical figurines. Few will remember this "Alamo" for long.

Rated PG-13; contains violence.

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