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THE PATRIOT – John Williams

thepatriotOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When word leaked out that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were less than satisfied with David Arnold’s demo score for The Patriot, it set off a chain of murmurings throughout the film music world. Who would be the man to replace Arnold, whose previous collaborations with Centropolis had resulted in the uniformly wonderful Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla? Then came the announcement: John Williams. Collective gasp. John Williams scoring a civil war epic? This could be the chance for him to turn in the kind of score everyone wanted Saving Private Ryan to be, but wasn’t. A glorious celebration of honor, nobility, valor in battle, and belief in one’s comrades. You’ll be delighted to discover that The Patriot doesn’t disappoint.

The Patriot, effectively, is a civil war version of Braveheart. Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a settler in pre-Revolutionary America whose peaceful existence as a farmer and landowner is thrown into turmoil when his separatist son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) takes up arms against the ruthless colonials who are terrorizing those who want to break away from the rule of the British. Fearing for the safety of his family, Martin becomes drawn into the increasingly violent conflict – and, through a combination of physical prowess and instinctive leadership skills, ends up leading the uprising, a la William Wallace. With a supporting cast that includes Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Tchéky Karyo and Tom Wilkinson, and a screenplay by Ryan writer Robert Rodat, The Patriot looks as if it will be one of 2000’s top earners at the box office; and judging by the exquisite musical sounds on offer here, it seems as though Williams may have hit pay dirt too.

As is usual for Williams scores these days, the main theme gets a fully fledged concert performance in the first track, ‘The Patriot’. Building slowly and deliberately from a superb fiddle solo into a triumphant refrain for the full orchestra, the sound is unmistakably derived from Saving Private Ryan, but with a warmer, more nostalgic aspect that hasn’t been heard to this extent in a Williams score since his Americana heydays of the early 70s and the likes of The Reivers. ‘The Patriot’ is very much a kissing cousin of “Hymn to the Fallen”, right down to the chromatic horn solos, arpeggiated snare drums and vibrant piccolos that dance playfully above the main theme. But whereas “Hymn to the Fallen” was stately, emotional and intentionally heartbreaking, ‘The Patriot’ is heroic, courageous, hopeful even, and has that magisterial quality that Saving Private Ryan, while beautiful, somehow lacked. It features again in short bursts, notably during ‘The Family Farm’, ‘The Colonial Cause’ and at the end of ‘Martin vs. Tavington’, before coming full circle and receiving a rousing recapitulation during ‘The Patriot Reprise’.

Unsurprisingly for a Roland Emmerich film, there is action a-plenty, and in several cues Williams picks up right where The Phantom Menace left off. ‘Redcoats at the Farm and the Death of Thomas’ begins with some phenomenal drum and bass work – not in the dance music style, but with immense percussion rolls and densely-packed horns playing in their lowest register, signaling the gathering of warring parties on the battlefields of North America.

Many of the other action cues, especially ‘Preparing for Battle’, ‘The First Ambush and Remembering the Wilderness’, ‘Tavington’s Trap’ and ‘Martin vs. Tavington’, are dark, almost Herrmannesque in tone, with repeated string chords, bass-heavy brass clusters and a forward-thrusting momentum that brings to mind “Duel of the Fates”, the better moments of The Lost World and, occasionally, even Nixon. It’s interesting to note how Williams’ action style has developed over the years. Back in the early 80s, when he was writing his Star Wars and Indiana Jones scores, his action material was all about bouncing motifs around different sections of the orchestra and filling the gaps with string work. Today, as these four or five tracks attest, he’s all about generating as much speed and power as possible.

But The Patriot is not all about turmoil. ‘Ann & Gabriel’ and ‘Susan Speaks’ both feature a lovely rendition of the main theme orchestrated for solo flutes, the former with the added bonus of a delicate harpsichord accompaniment, and which gradually build and swell into superb orchestral flourishes. ‘The Burning of the Plantation’ and ‘The Parish Church Aflame’ are fine examples of the wonderfully gut-wrenching laments that Williams does so well. And then there are the old fife and drum tunes that depict the music of the era – even Williams is not above working a brief rendition of an old civil war ditty into ‘Facing the British Lines’.

I feel that The Patriot is one of the best Williams scores in recent years. Less depressing than Angela’s Ashes, less disjointed than The Phantom Menace, more approachable than Saving Private Ryan and less manipulative than Stepmom, The Patriot has all the things that Williams fans look for in a score, and then some. It is a worthy and highly enjoyable score that sits alongside Dinosaur and Mission To Mars as one of the year’s best to date.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • The Patriot (6:42)
  • The Family Farm (3:04)
  • To Charleston (2:16)
  • The Colonial Cause (3:16)
  • Redcoats at the Farm and the Death of Thomas (5:00)
  • Ann Recruits the Parishioners (3:09)
  • Preparing for Battle (5:50)
  • Ann & Gabriel (4:35)
  • The First Ambush and Remembering the Wilderness (4:00)
  • Tavington’s Trap (4:10)
  • The Burning of the Plantation (4:56)
  • Facing the British Lines (3:05)
  • The Parish Church Aflame (3:05)
  • Susan Speaks (3:17)
  • Martin vs. Tavington (3:07)
  • Yorktown & The Return Home (5:20)
  • The Patriot Reprise (7:39)

Running Time: 72 minutes 40 seconds

Hollywood Records/Centropolis HR-62258 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by John Neufeld. Violin solos performed by Mark O’Connor. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Album produced by John Williams

  1. Otto
    June 19, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Civil war? 🙂

  2. Blake Layton
    August 9, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    It’s Revolutionary War not Civil War.

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