Benjamin Martin: "Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you."
Colonel Tavington: "Why wait?"
2000 war epic starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger and Jason Isaacs, set during The American Revolution. The movie isn't about the actual founding fathers (ie Washington) but is instead about some of the biggest and most brutal engagements that were waged in the southern colonies, as seen through an Officer turned Farmer turned Officer again. Mel Gibson is Benjamin Martin, a veteran of the French And Indian War who was changed by the horrors he has seen (and committed). South Carolina had just voted to join the war, but Ben said he would not. His eldest son Gabriel decides to go anyway. He isn't seen again until two years later, when he staggers home, wounded and carrying dispatches between two rebel leaders.This is where Colonel Tavington comes in. The commander of the elite Green Dragoon forces, Tavington orders the deaths of the rebel wounded, has the Martins' house burned down, and takes Gabriel in as a spy to be hanged. Thomas, his next oldest son, tries to intervene, and gets a bullet in the back for his trouble. This sparks Benjamin Martin's decision to join the Revolution to fight the Redcoats (and to ambush and slaughter the British detachment).The rest of the film is spent with Martin and his militia harassing Tavington (and by extension, Cornwallis) throughout South Carolina, holding out until The French arrive to reinforce the Colonials.Nominated for three Academy Awards, the film is known for its gruesome battles and the hit-and-run tactics employed by the militia. It's also noted for its score, which Barack Obama had playing in the background during his Presidential acceptance speech.Is also known, however, for it extreme cases of Politically Correct History, having plenty of (partly blatant) Historical Villain Upgrades for the British and Historical Hero Upgrades for the rebels, to make the conflict more justified.
"A shepherd must tend his flock...(snatches off wig and puts on black, broad-brimmed hat) and at times, fight off the wolves."
Batman Gambit: After taking a supply convoy full of Cornwallis' personal effects (and two prized Great Danes), which include numerous officers' uniforms, Martin rides into Cornwallis' base for formal parlay, claiming he's captured eighteen officers. The talks quickly turn to prisoner exchange, and Martin offers the officers (really just stuffed dummies) for the members of his militia, who were captured earlier. He then whistles on his way out, prompting the great danes to leave Cornwallis, back to Martin.
Berserk Button: Try to harm Martin's family and you will have a tomahawk stuck in your skull before long.
Big Bad: General Cornwallis is the highest officer in the British Army seen during the movie, leading the Southern theater against the Continental Army to quell the revolution. He is later reduced to a more minor threat as Tavington is given free reign and becomes more brutal, committing civilian atrocities with glee and systematically hunting down Martin's guerillas. Martin's personal objective becomes killing Tavington, with defeating Cornwallis a secondary mission. Ironically, Martin only succeeds- and the tide turns- 'after' he changes that and sacrifices a chance to kill Tavington in order to save the Continental Army from collapse. Though this being Hollywood, he gets a second go at Tavington just a few minutes later.
Bigger Bad: The unseen King George III, ruler of the British Empire. He's only ever referred to in passing, but Cornwallis and the other Generals ultimately answer to him. And Tavington is such a central figure Cornwallis himself might count as this.
Big "NO!": Gabriel yells this when Tavington shoots Thomas.
Black Vikings: Sort of. Martin's Carolina plantation workers state they're all freed men, despite such a thing not historically happening until the Civil War.
Combat Pragmatist: Martin learned about hit-and-run guerilla tactics employed by the Indians and later explained that his unit during that time period would respond in kind. In his first engagement in the movie he instructed his sons to target the officers, shoot the soldiers from back to front (while he went front to back), stay low to the ground and hidden behind logs, trees and small hills. This was all reflective of the time period, the American Revolution was the first war to edge away from typical open field, lines of soldiers confrontations (although until barrel rifling was devised snipers were not nearly as helpful or useful in wars).
Composite Character: Both Martin and Tavington were a combination of several colonial militia leaders and brutal British commanders.
Concepts Are Cheap: All the talk of freedom often amounted to just that, as Gabriel notes. Its his hope that after winning their independence the Americans will have a chance to make them a reality.
Curbstomp Battle: The first one seen in the film has the British wiping the floor with the rebels.
Dragon-in-Chief: Col. Tavington takes his orders from General Cornwallis and his direct subordinate, but he's by far the biggest threat in the film to Martin and the militia, a more vile villain, and much better at hunting them down.
Dual Wielding: The climax fight scene features Tavington wielding a sword and unfixed bayonet while Ben uses his Cherokee tomahawk in one hand and a dagger in the other.
Enemy Mine: The French aren't about American independence as much as they are seeing their old rivals, the British, humiliated. Personified by the relationship between Benjamin Martin and the Frenchman Jean Villeneuve. Martin is well-known to have massacred and mutilated a French force during the French And Indian War.
Cornwallis is an honorable British general who respects the laws of warfare and simply wants to re-establish British rule. He also wants to maintain good, if not peaceful, relations with the colonials. However, he is still appalled at Tavington's brutal tactics and rightly faults him for the increasing resistance against the British from the American militia.
Also, one of Tavington's men complains that there's no honor in burning down a church full of civilians, and is clearly reluctant to follow his orders to do so.
Evil Brit - Again, Tavington is spot on. To a much lesser extent General Cornwallis, his staff and Tavington's loyalist aide-de-camp. Yet, they all belong to the least sympathetic characters of the story, mainly because Aristocrats Are Evil.
Fatal Flaw: To defeat Cornwallis in the climactic battle, Martin takes advantage of Cornwallis' pride and penchant to ignore the fighting ability of American militia.
Fire-Forged Friends: Dan and Occam. Dan repeatedly insults Occam because he's a black slave but after Occam saved Dan's life during a battle, Dan softened on him. After the war, they work together to help rebuild Benjamin's house. Occam was a free man by that time, voluntarily staying with the militia even though he no longer owed them service.
Good Shepherd: Reverend Oliver joins the patriots to defend his flock.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: After Anne Howard and Mrs. Howard sew Gabriel Martin into a bundling bag when he stays the night, Mr. Howard listens nervously at the door. Mrs. Howard says, "Don't worry, I'm a better seamstress than my mother was." Mr. Howard looks mortified and replies, "I hope so!"
Harmful to Minors: One of Benjamin Martin's sons is shot in front of the rest of his children, and then he takes two of the remaining boys—aged between nine and twelve—and slaughters the British soldiers responsible. Their horror as they walk back to their torched house is apparent.
The British lieutenant who thanked Martin for helping British soldiers after the first battle is shown to look horrified at the shooting of Thomas and the massacre of the enemy wounded. And then the movie has him die first when Martin and his sons rescue Gabriel.
Then there's Wilkins, who protests the burning of the church and looks visibly upset by it, but nothing is ever done with it and he is forgotten about during the final battle, with no real resolution to his character.
Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Part of historical fact, but especially for the well-dressed French soldier. When Martin takes note of Villeneuve in his proper uniform just before a large battle, the Frenchman insists that if he is to die he is going to die well-dressed. Also used for military purposes in the movie itself, as during Gabriel's rescue Martin shoots the more-conspicuously uniformed officers first, then goes to work on the grunts.
Historical Hero Upgrade: Martin is chiefly based on Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, the foremost guerrilla fighter of the Revolution; unfortunately, Marion had no qualms about slavery (he certainly didn't free any of his slaves). Hence, to make Martin more sympathetic to modern audiences, Martin is made to reflect the anti-slavery sentiments of John Laurens, a South Carolina Revolutionary leader who was anti-slavery.
Although Banastre Tarelton, the prototype for Tavington, was a rather nasty individual (cf his actions at the Waxhaws Massacrenote and even then, it was more his troops' fault than his own and his fervent support of the Slave Trade as an MP), he was not nearly as bad as the film would have you believe. Many of the things Tavington does, such as locking up villagers inside their church and then setting it and them on fire, are the kinds of things Nazis did, rather than 18th century British soldiers.
The British in general get this, but Big Bad Charles Cornwallis definitely gets this. While in the movie he is still portrayed as a Noble Demon in comparison to Tavington's plain demon, he still holds the colonists in open contempt and disdain. Real Cornwallis was a Whig who was sympathetic to the colonials and before the war was an MP who voted on their behalf several times.
Hollywood History: Aside from most of the battle depicted, about two thirds of the movie.
Cornwallis calls Martin and his militia "a bunch of farmers with pitchforks." After Benjamin Martin's gambit (see below), Tavington tells him, "Quite impressive for a farmer with a pitchfork, wouldn't you say?"
Capt. Wilkins, a Loyalist, answered Tavington's question on why he should trust a man who "betray his neighbors" with "Those neighbors of mine who stand against England deserve to die a traitor's death". Later on, Tavington orders Capt. Wilkins to burn his said neighbours to death inside the church. When Capt. Wilkins says there's no honor in it, Tavington coldly throw his own words at him to make him do it anyway.
It Has Been an Honor: An exchange given between two of Martin's militiamen, one a bigot and the other a slave working for his freedom. Even better, it was instigated by the bigot when he remarked that the freed slave had already done his time.
It's Personal: Martin's motivation for finally getting involved in the war is revenge against Tavington after the latter murders his son in cold blood. After Martin's militia unit becomes a big enough thorn in the side of Cornwallis for him to look the other way from Tavington's more brutal tactics, Tavington seems to take a certain sadistic pleasure in making things between Martin and himself even more personal by specifically targeting civilians who are known to be affiliated with Martin, especially the family members of the men in Martin's unit, culminating in the infamous church burning scene and the subsequent killing of Gabriel during his failed Roaring Rampage of Revenge attempt.
Kick the Dog: Tavington does this constantly, and in fact struggles against Cornwallis to continue doing so when he disapproves of his methods.
Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Cornwallis upholds the "set piece battles" (soldiers lining up and shooting in open fields) as highly honorable, and won't have any of Tavington's barbarity. Like the real man, he's a genius at these open engagements. The open battle where he was defeated (before the French arrive) was a slightly altered version of the Battle of Cowpens, which shares little more than its (supposed) location, result, and (to some extent) strategic effect with the actual thing.
Missing Mom: Benjamin's wife died before the movie's events leaving his six kids motherless.
My Country, Right or Wrong: The Loyalist militiamen, led by Captain Wilkins, who consider themselves Englishmen first. Deconstructed, when Tavington orders them to set fire to a church full of civilian Patriot sympathizers. In many ways, this is an inverse of what actually happened: a lot of the British atrocities in the South were caused by local Loyalists with bad blood towards their Patriot neighbors, and who placed a higher priority on fighting their own Civil War than on fighting the war the British regulars wanted them to.
Not in This for Your Revolution: You would think, given the title of the movie, Mel Gibson's motivation would have something to do with love of country. Instead, he refuses to get involved until it gets personal.
Old Shame: In-universe, Benjamin Martin's tenure during the French And Indian War.
One Bullet Left: Benjamin Martin deliberately saves a special bullet made from one of his murdered son's lead soldiers especially for the Big Bad who killed him, Colonel Tavington. Subverted in that while he does get his final, poetic justice-y shot in on Tavington, a cannonball landing nearby throws off his aim and only wounds the villain, leading to a rather fierce duel between Benjamin and the now very pissed-off Tavington in the midst of the battle.
Parental Hypocrisy: Gabriel spends the night with his fiancée, Anne Howard, and her family. Mrs. Howard sews Gabe into a bundling bag for the night, to keep him and Anne from getting up to anything. Afterwards, Gabe and Anne talk, while her dad listens nervously at the door.
Mrs. Howard: Don't worry, I'm a better seamstress than my mother was. Mr. Howard: [mortified] I hope so!
Justified in that if Ann's mother had gotten pregnant, they could have just bumped up the wedding. Ann's fiancee is at war and could be killed, and a pregnant girl living with her parents with no husband in sight would probably attract the attention of the British looking for rebel sympathizers.
Pet the Dog: Ben was kind enough to take care of the two Great Danes he captured.
Poisonous Friend: Gen. Cornwallis wants to fight the war honorably, as do most of the other British soldiers encountered in the film. However, Tavington attempts to prove his worthiness/dedication to the cause by taking actions that Cornwallis expressely forbids, until Tavington finally manages to corrupt Cornwallis at the end of the film and he gives Tavington permission to capture Martin using brutal tactics.
Pyrrhic Victory: (With shades of Heroic Sacrifice and Was It Really Worth It?.) By the end, Benjamin Martin has violently lost his home, his two eldest sons, his daughter-in-law and her family and her entire village, his sister-in-law's home, and at some points his own self-respect. His younger sons have lost their innocence when he enlisted them to rescue Gabriel. Many of his friends and comrades made similar sacrifices; he watches as a longtime friend shoots himself in the head after finding his own family slain.
Relative Button: Tavington deliberately tries to provoke Martin this way when he taunts Martin about shooting Thomas.
Retirony: Occam, the black slave subverts this trope, Ben's son who comes back to kill the man who killed his newly wedded wife? Not so much.
Revenge Before Reason: Gabriel attacks the British (see below) and gets himself and all of his men killed. Even then he could have survived if he had shot a prone Tavington from a safe distance instead of moving up close to stab him.
Benjamin Martin does this twice: the first time, he ambushes the British detachment that captured his oldest son after Tavington shot his second oldest in the back. The second time, Martin keeps his promise to kill Tavington by the war's end.
Gabriel also attempts this after Tavington corrals a bunch of innocent townspeople — including his new bride (who was also his Unlucky Childhood Friend) — into their town's church and burns it down, killing everyone inside. His didn't work.
General Lord Cornwallis: (referring to a replacement formal coat) It is a horse blanket. Colonel William Tavington: Oh, I don't know, my Lord. It's really...quite nice. General O'Hara: Very nice, my Lord. General Lord Cornwallis: Very well, it is a nice horse blanket.
Then later on in the same scene:
General Lord Cornwallis:...give me the horse blanket...
Straight for the Commander: Used and extensively discussed. Col. Benjamin Martin intentionally targets British officers first in his irregular guerrilla campaigns to sow confusion among the British regulars. He discusses it with British General Cornwallis during a neutral meeting, with the latter calling it uncalled for. Martin questions what would be an "acceptable" level of hostile intent during warfare, and Cornwallis' states his concern is to maintain order and prevent atrocities committed by leaderless armies. Martin refuses to change his tactic as long as other British officers like Col. Tavington engage in pointless brutalities that violate the Laws and Customs of Warfare, and Cornwallis concedes the point.
The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Surprising considering how cartoonishly evil the British are, but the militia is utterly merciless to surrendering redcoats and ignores the standard rules of engagement of the time.
Unstoppable Rage: fueled when Thomas is killed and used to destroy a British detachment.
What the Hell, Hero?: The scene when Martin and some of his old war buddies slaughter a group of surrendering redcoats. The rest of the group is scandalized, making Martin realize the brutality of their actions.