Mel Gibson is a movie star. A really big one, even. He's got charisma and presence and lights up the screen and is pleasingly handsome in a rugged, non-pretty-boy kind of way. He's funny and charming on talkshows and makes lots of money for all of the above. This much we know. What remains a bit of a mystery is how he maintains such status. His star-power is firmly rooted in the seemingly ancient Lethal Weapon series and the quip-throwing, fast drawing, scene-chewing character he plays in it seems to have overtaken his public persona as well. Does anyone actually know anyone who even saw Lethal Weapon 4? The more appropriate question perhaps being: does anybody remember it? Does anybody care?
Since Mel Gibson is a movie star by trade, he is also tangentially an actor. And in his new film, The Patriot, he has a listless taciturnity that one could diplomatically describe as “understated” or, if so inclined, “Gary Cooper-ish.” Ultimately, though, Gibson's performance just seems false -- hollow in an utterly competent, completely professional way. In the age of Jim Carrey and Fight Club, Being John Malkovich and Ben Stiller, Gibson's style of acting doesn't seem so much old school as plain inadequate. This is not to run roughshod over classical notions of subtlety or interiority, but merely to say that if he was once emblematic of his time, Gibson's moment has passed. Perhaps he is simply inching towards some exclusive hideaway of insignificance, where he can commiserate over the rising price of jet fuel with Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford.
It's not all his fault, either, The Patriot. And it's not even that it's a bad movie, it's just not good either; it just is. Created by the director/producer team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, The Patriot is caught in the double bind of wanting to be two semi-incompatible things at once. On the one hand, the project has the air of an important, high-style heritage picture about a simple farmer trying to escape his past sins and keep his family together during trying times. But set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, the movie continually feels an alternate pull towards being a blood-and-guts actioner. Over the course of its 2 1/2 hours, the film often seems at war with itself -- every time it starts to move with a steady flow, building momentum, it suddenly finds itself in a little narrative eddy, taking time out for a funeral, or a wedding, or to reiterate how bad the bad guys are （as in not good） and how the good guys are simple folk just trying to get along and colonially do their thing.