2004-05-07 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

‘The Alamo’ – Billy As Davy

In an early scene in "The Alamo," we see an anonymous actor in a humongous coonskin cap making faces and applying makeup. He is about to take the stage as the legendary Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Learning that the real Congressman David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) is in the audience, the actor asks the celebrity/politician to take a bow, which he does.

The scene sets up what writer-director John Lee Hancock is trying to do with his version of "The Alamo"  — tell it like it was. As the "real" Davy (or, David as he preferred to be called), Thornton is the best thing about this "Alamo." However, if his depiction of the frontier legend is accurate, Crockett was a lot like Billy Bob Thornton, who behaves pretty much the way he does on TV talk shows.

Hancock portrays the 200 Alamo heroes led by Crockett, Col. James Bowie (Jason Patric) and Lt. Col. William Barret Travis (Patrick Wilson) as sacrificial lambs, who gave their lives for Texas independence from Mexico. In fact, here, Texas General Sam Houston (a stiff-necked Dennis Quaid) is as ruthless in his own way as Mexican Dictator General Antonio López de Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria). Knowing that the defenders of the Alamo mission will be overwhelmed by the thousands of Mexican soldiers, Houston chooses to let them die and then lure Santa Anna’s army into a vulnerable position. In a post-Alamo battle coda, Houston has his victory and the dictator signs over Texas in exchange for his life.

But before that, Hancock has a slow two-hour build which largely focuses on the rivalry for leadership between Travis and the terminally-ill Bowie. If it wasn’t Thornton/Crockett (who’s also a remarkable fiddle player), boredom would have killed the Alamo defenders before the Mexicans did.
While "The Alamo" is not sending thousands to the box office, it is workman-like rendering of a great moment in American history... with the added bonus of Billy Bob at his best.

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