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Film / The Patriot

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Watch out, men, it's Mel Gibson's giant face!

Benjamin Martin: Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you.
Colonel Tavington: Why wait?

The Patriot is a 2000 war epic set during The American Revolution, directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Robert Rodat.

The movie isn't about the actual Founding Fathers, 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. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) is a veteran of the French And Indian War who was changed by the horrors he has seen (and committed). South Carolina has just voted to join the war, but Ben decides not to participate in the conflict. His eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) 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 William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) 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 (Gregory Smith), 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.

The film also stars Joely Richardson as Charlotte Selton, Chris Cooper as Harry Burwell, Tchéky Karyo as Jean Villeneuve, René Auberjonois as Reverend Oliver and Tom Wilkinson as Charles Cornwallis.

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.


This film provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Absolutely no one in the British Army has anything kind to say about Tavington. Cornwallis himself doesn't show any sympathy for him when Benjamin kills him.
  • Affably Evil: General Cornwallis comes across as cordial, diplomatic and more honor-bound than the likes of Colonel Tavington. He even gives Benjamin his genuine gratitude for retrieving his two great Danes unharmed and healthy.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • The roundshot fired by cannon actually was aimed toward the ground, and the cannonball actually does bounce repeatedly off the ground the way it does in the film.
    • Heath Ledger being allowed to sleep next to his girlfriend by her parents as long as her mother can sew him in? He calls it "bundling", and yeah, it was totally real. Though not always successful, as her parents' dialogue makes clear...
  • An Axe to Grind: Benjamin's weapon of choice is a Cherokee tomahawk.
  • Anyone Can Die: Benjamin's words prove true: "The innocent will die along with the rest of us". Blatantly proven when Tavington's men slaughter much of the side characters and love interests.
  • Appeal to Force: Col. Tavington in his introductory scene. When Martin tries to reason with him about his brutal conduct by citing the Rules of War, Tavington responds by aiming a pistol at his head (an unarmed civilian, natch) and asks him if he would "like a lesson in the rules of war". Then he points it at Martin's children. Completely decontructed when it's shown Tavington's superiors hate him for this approach because it violates the rules of war, inspires rebellion against Tavington's cruelty, and tarnishes the desired reputation of Officer and a Gentleman that his fellow soldiers like his superiors wish to maintain.
  • Artistic License – History: Aside from most of the battles depicted, about two thirds of the movie.
    • Specifically, the timeline that the film tries to present doesn't jive with historical chronology, even though the film also presents these real events both on-screen and through monologue. The film opens in 1776 and conversation at the South Carolina Assembly indicates that the Continentals "expect a Declaration of Independence," so it can be safely assumed that it is June or early July by that point. After Gabriel enlists and parts ways with his family, the audience hears his monologue-by-letter which reveals that Charles Town (modern-day Charleston, SC) fell to the British (12 May 1780) and his best friend "fell at Elizabethtown (part of the Battle of Springfield (23 June 1780))". The following scene with Benjamin and Thomas has Thomas stating that "it's already been two (years)". It's unclear if he means two years since the start of the war or since the levy vote, but either explanation is historically inaccurate. This also makes it difficult to determine just how bad the film's Not Allowed to Grow Up sin really is.
  • Asshole Victim: How Cornwallis and his fellow generals see Tavington's death. Cornwallis notably doesn't mourn him when he sees Martin doing him in; he just begrudgingly orders the retreat, knowing that Tavington's clumsiness and brutality cost them a crucial battle.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: British dragoon commander Col. William Tavington is a brutally effective combatant with his pistols and saber. When Gabriel attempts to take his revenge for the death of his wife and her village with a group of militiamen, Tavington personally kills most of them, including Reverend Oliver and Gabriel. This applies to his subordinate Captain Borden to a lesser extent, as he fights Gabriel quite evenly and it requires Oliver's help to finally kill him.
  • Ax-Crazy: Tavington, Tavington, Tavington. Most of the atrocities committed in the film are because of him, and he actively makes Cornwallis's job more difficult because of his needless cruelty.
    • Benjamin lapses and gives us a literal example (he's wielding a tomahawk) during his assault on the British detachment that took Gabriel. He brutally dispatches every redcoat that gets in his way with his tomahawk, and after taking down the last one standing, he savagely starts hacking away at the guy, driven into a blind, grief-filled rage. The sight of their father butchering a man while yelling and covered in blood understandably freaks out his two young sons (who he brought along to provide support fire).
  • Back from the Dead: John Billings is seen killed in the first Redcoat volley at the climactic Battle of Cowpens. This is several months after he committed suicide. Also counts as a Blooper.
  • Badass Preacher: Reverend Oliver is recruited for the militia by Gabriel.
    "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 and run back to Martin.
    • Tavington defeats Martin's partisans, because he correctly guesses that they will try to attack another convoy, so he orders soldiers to hide in the wagons, while he is hiding with his dragoons behind a hill, ready to attack.
  • Berserker Tears: At the end of the ambush, in slow motion.
  • 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 rein 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.
  • Big "NO!": Gabriel yells this when his friend Peter Cuppin is shot by the British and his comrades are pulling him back to retreat. He repeats it much louder and longer when Tavington shoots his brother Thomas.
  • Black-and-White Morality: British = Evil, American = Good, nothing in between, no ambiguity, no complexity.
  • Blood Is the New Black: At the end of Martin's first guerilla engagement with the British, he kills the last soldier with a tomahawk, before proceeding to have at the corpse in bloodthirsty rage over the immediately preceding execution of his son Thomas. Martin's remaining sons look on in shock until their father eventually emerges with his face covered completely in blood.
  • Blood Knight: Despite his comments that he finds war an "ugly business", it's clear that Tavington enjoys his work as a soldier way too much and longs to kill as many enemies as possible to build himself up as a legend.
  • Boom, Headshot!: At the Battle of Camden, a cannonball is fired and bounces off the ground. An unlucky rebel soldier takes it right in the face. It doesn't turn out so great for him.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Benjamin's inability to build a rocking chair. He finds one in Cornwallis' headquarters and tries to examine it until Cornwallis catches him.
    • Early in the film, Anne says that she remembers Gabriel because he had slipped ink into her tea years ago, so that her teeth remained black for several days. Later, when they become engaged and Gabriel sleeps at her parents' house, she prepares tea for him. When Gabriel leaves the house, his teeth are black.
  • Call to Agriculture: After experiencing the horrors of the French and Indian War, Benjamin took up farming (and apparently carpentry), and he refused to fight in the American Revolution, at first.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: William Tavington forcibly conscripts plantation workers into the British Army, orders the execution of wounded American prisoners, burning Ben's home, murders one of his sons and orders the execution of another one. And that's just in his first few minutes of screen time!
    "You know, it's an ugly business doing one's duty... but just occasionally, it's a real pleasure."
  • The Cavalry: The French making the save at the Siege/Battle of Yorktown to stop the British retreat.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jean Villeneuve, on behalf of the French; they promised their navy and ten thousand soldiers.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted. Maj. Villeneuve is a stalwart ally to the Colonials and an all-around badass, and the French army shows up at the end to play The Cavalry and force the British to surrender. Which actually is historically accurate.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Martin learned about hit-and-run guerrilla 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 (at least, the first one since the advent of firearms - even then, before barrel rifling was devised snipers were not nearly as helpful or useful in wars). Colonial troops had already long taken up what would now be called guerrilla warfare that they learned fighting various native tribes.
  • Composite Character: Both Martin and Tavington were a combination of several colonial militia leaders and brutal commanders.
  • Concepts Are Cheap: All the talk of freedom often amounted to just that, as Gabriel notes. It's his hope that after winning their independence the Americans will have a chance to make them a reality.
  • Create Your Own Hero: Benjamin Martin was actively trying to avoid becoming involved in the Revolutionary War for the sake of his family. He only starts a guerilla movement to oppose the Redcoats after Colonel Tavington burns down his home and shoots one of his sons in front of him.
  • Cute Mute: Susan is very adorable, and does not speak for the first half of the film.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The first one seen in the film has the British wiping the floor with the rebels. Also later on when Ben and two of his sons slaughter the Redcoats to rescue Gabriel.
  • Daylight Horror: Many of the atrocities in the film take place during bright, sunny days (except the church being burned). Perhaps the best example is the Battle of Camden, where the clear blue sky and fluffy clouds act as an eerie juxtaposition to the brutal, bloody violence taking place.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tavington is a very dark example.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: The Battle of Cowpens starts with the Continentals pulling this, taking advantage of the British's low opinion of militia and their tendency to flee under fire to lure the British into running right into the rest of the army for a counterattack. Truth in Television, as it happens.
  • The Dragon: Capt. Borden is this to Col. Tavington, as his second-in-command.
  • 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.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The militia dress up as redcoats and blow up a munitions ship.
  • Driven to Suicide: John Billings shoots himself in the head after his family are murdered by Tavington. He does so within seconds of learning of their deaths, in full view of the minister and other rebels.
  • Dual Wielding:
    • Tavington wields his saber in one hand and an empty pistol in the other when Gabriel's men ambush his dragoons.
    • The climax fight scene features Tavington wielding a sword and unfixed bayonet while Ben uses his Cherokee tomahawk in one hand and an empty pistol and seconds later a dagger in the other.
  • Elite Mook: The British Dragoon units led by Tavington, which leads the lesser Redcoats in battle, and can be identified by the green stripes on their uniform and headgear.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Cornwallis is an honorable British general who respects the laws of warfare and simply wants to reestablish British rule. He also wants to maintain good, if not peaceful, relations with the colonials. Partly because of this, he is appalled at Tavington's brutal tactics and rightly faults him for the increasing resistance against the British from the American militia.
    • Also, Captain Wilkins 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. Earlier, when Tavington finally clarifies Martin's identity, Wilkins looks noticeably disturbed that the first thing the colonel does is ask after his children. He hesitates before finally answering him.
    • When Tavington orders the British lieutenant to have the wounded rebels executed, the latter has a Jaw Drop.
  • 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.
  • Evil Counterpart: William Tavington serves this role to Benjamin Martin.
  • Expy Coexistence: It requires both a fairly thorough knowledge of the war and careful attention to dialog, but apparently the main historical inspiration for Tavington, Banastre Tarleton, exists in the universe of The Patriot alongside Tavington. When Gabriel returns home wounded, he talks about the Green Dragoons "falling on the Virginians", an apparent reference to the Waxhaws Massacre, where Tarleton's soldiers thought that the Americans pulled an I Surrender, Suckers and killed Tarleton while surrendering, note  and the British proceeded to kill or injure most of the Americans before order could be restored.
  • 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.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Tavington is usually quite polite, even as he's mocking a man about killing his son, or informing a building full of civilians that they're about to be burned alive.
  • 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.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Thomas is only mentioned once after his death.
  • French Jerk: Major Jean Villeneuve is a subversion. At first he seems like a snobbish sort who treats Colonel Benjamin Martin with contempt (though not without reason, as Martin killed a lot of Frenchmen in the French and Indian Wars), which Martin dismisses as typically French. However, Villeneuve later reveals that his family was killed by British soldiers, his countrymen keep their word about the ships he promised, and he and Martin become Fire-Forged Friends by the end.
  • Four-Star Badass
    Benjamin: "Lord Cornwallis knows more of warfare than we can hope to learn in a dozen lifetimes."
  • General Failure: Although we don't see him onscreen, General Horatio Gates is very much this as he was in real-life at the battle assumed to be the disastrous Battle of Camden. Benjamin comments to Gabriel that his strategy of engaging the British out on an open battlefield doomed his army from the very start, as their lines quickly dissolve as they fall into a bloody retreat. It's then mentioned that Gates had fled from the battle on horseback and left his men to fend for themselves, again true to the actions of the real-life Gates.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Several, with special mention to Benjamin Martin.
    Lord Cornwallis: (regarding Martin's threatening to kill 18note  of Cornwallis' officers if Martin's men are not released) This is hardly the conduct of a gentleman.
    Benjamin Martin: If the conduct of your officers is the measure of a gentleman, I consider that a compliment.
  • Gideon Ploy: Inverted. Benjamin Martin and his men dress up scarecrows as Redcoat officers and hold them at gunpoint within full view of General Cornwallis' camp, specifically to convince Cornwallis that they held a large number of English officers captive so they could exchange the "officers" for Colonial prisoners Cornwallis had. It works, much to Cornwallis' later consternation.
  • Give Me a Sword: After getting shot, Reverend Oliver throws his musket upwards to Gabriel so he can kill Tavington.
  • Glory Hound: Lord Corwallis is one but Tavington is a more blatant and eager example. As part of a Freudian Excuse, Tavington is overzealous to prove himself and gain riches through brutality due to his father squandering all of his inheritance and leaving him with nothing, while Cornwallis seeks to only reign in Tavington's brutality to maintain and enrich the reputation of his military career. Both end up paying the price for their desire of fame in war.
  • Good Shepherd: Reverend Oliver joins the patriots to defend his flock after many in his parish join the militia.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: 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.
  • 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.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam:
    • 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.
  • Hero Killer: Tavington ruthlessly kills a lot of sympathetic characters, most notably Thomas, Gabriel, and Reverend Oliver - though in all fairness, the latter two were trying to kill him. Not to mention Anne, her parents, and pretty much everyone else burned alive by his orders.
  • 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) allegedly raped some of the women, and committed atrocities. 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.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Although Banastre Tarleton, the prototype for Tavington, was a rather nasty individual (to clarify, note his actions at the Waxhaws Massacrenote  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 were based on German war crimes from World War II like the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre (though the English did do similar things to the Irish during the 1641 rebellion note , even if more than 100 years beforehand).
    • The British in general get this, but Big Bad Charles Cornwallis definitely does. 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. In reality Cornwallis was a Whig who was sympathetic to the colonials, and before the war was an MP who voted on their behalf several times (notably, he was one of only five MPs to vote against the Stamp Act, predicting exactly the hostile response it generated). He was also an effective governor of Ireland and India after the war, effecting major changes in both parts of the British Empire despite his defeat in the Revolution.
  • Home Guard: Both Patriot and Loyalist varieties show up in this film.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Tavington.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Tavington occasionally pulls this on his men, Captain Wilkins learned this the hard way:
    Capt. Wilkins: (after locking townspeople in a church) Ready to fire the town on your order, sir.
    Col. Tavington: (Evil Laugh) The town? Burn the church.
    Capt. Wilkins: There's no honor in this.
    Col. Tavington: Didn't you say "All those who stand against England deserve to die a traitor's death"? Burn the church, Captain.
  • I'll Take That as a Compliment:
    Gen. Lord Cornwallis: This is hardly the conduct of a gentleman!
    Col. Benjamin Martin: If the conduct of your officers is the measure of a gentleman, I'll take that as a compliment.
  • Immune to Bullets: Tavington, to Gabriel's horror. The latter gets a spot-on shot on the former and it does not affect him one bit. Also during the climactic duel, Benjamin's musket shots do nothing to Tavington, and could only beat him through a series of stabs.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: When Tavington shoots a fleeing revolutionary from a hundred yards away with a flintlock pistol while on horseback.
    • When Benjamin ambushes the patrol to save Gabriel, he shoots a Redcoat in the head while running and from the hip with a pistol from about 30 yards away.
    • Pretty much anyone who is not a regular grunt just can't miss.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: And in Tavington's case it's from a clearly modern martini-style glass.
  • Innocence Lost: The Martin kids witness their brother die and their home burned. Two of them are forced to kill.
  • Insult Backfire:
    • See the first Ironic Echo example below.
    • Near the end of the Battle of Cowpens, a presumably-incapacitated Benjamin Martin watches the battle as he writhes in pain, having been slashed by Tavington's sword. Tavington, who is right behind him, insults Martin by declaring: "Kill me before the war is over, will you? It appears that you are not the better man. " Just as Tavington is about to behead Martin, Martin dodges the killing blow and grabs a bayonet to stab Tavington in the stomach. As Tavington falls, Martin holds the bayonet on Tavington's neck responds to his insult by concurring with him, declaring that his sons were better men, right before Martin delivers the killing blow to Tavington.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Cornwallis calls Martin and his militia "a bunch of farmers with pitchforks." After Benjamin Martin's gambit (see above), Tavington comments, "Quite impressive for a farmer with a pitchfork, wouldn't you say?"
    • A variant of this trope occurs during Benjamin's gambit. Tavington confronts him and insults his sons, after which Benjamin warns the Colonel, "Before the war is over, I'm going to kill you." In the Battle of Cowpens, an incapacitated Benjamin Martin is confronted yet again by Tavington, who remarks, "Kill me before the war is over, will you?" This later ends up backfiring on Tavington.
    • Capt. Wilkins, a Loyalist, answered Tavington's question on why he should trust a man who'd "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 neighbors to death inside the church. When Capt. Wilkins says there's no honor in it, Tavington coldly throws his words back 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.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: General Cornwallis is the highest-ranking British officer opposing the Southern rebels, but Martin respects Cornwallis' military genius and at one point negotiates his men's release with the General. Martin's real enemy is the vicious Colonel Tavington, the field commander of the Dragoons, who murdered Martin's son and burned down his home.
    Martin: Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you.
    Tavington: Why wait?
  • Kick the Dog: Tavington does this constantly, and in fact struggles against Cornwallis to continue doing so when he disapproves of his methods.
  • Knight of Cerebus: When Tavington and his dragoons show up, you just know things are about to get ugly.
  • Leave No Survivors: In his opening scene, Colonel Tavington has wounded Colonial soldiers gunned down where they're lying in blatant violation of the laws of war. General Cornwallis later explodes in Tavington's face for refusing to give their enemies of the hour quarter.
    • Later on, Benjamin and his militia massacre a British patrol, cutting down even those redcoats trying to surrender, much to Gabriel's horror.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Tavington's cavalry charge before the order is given, much to Cornwallis' chagrin. While his charge did little than to force the militia to retreat sooner than expected for their battle plan, it ultimately resulted in Tavington's death.
  • Left for Dead: One of the soldiers attacked while escorting Gabriel survives, albeit with severe wounds, and later gives a report to Tavingotn.
  • 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. And the only recorded instance of an English army rounding up and burning people alive in churches lay more than 130 years back, during the 1641 Irish rebellion.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Captain Wilkins is clearly horrified after burning the church full of civilians. He was very reluctant to do so in the first place, but gave in, and as he watches it go up in flames, his face says it all.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Despite taking place over 5-7 years, none of Martin's children age a day.
  • 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.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Mr. Howard is hard of hearing, and uses an ear trumpet to help him. However he's also a bit of The Gadfly and plays up his disability around others for his amusement, and several moments make it clear his hearing is nowhere near as bad as he lets on.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Several times, like the British massacring the wounded Americans inside the walls of a makeshift field hospital, and Tavington's burning of the church with the townsfolk still inside. Benjamin's men also engage in this at one point.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: This archetype is embodied by General Cornwallis, which was very much the ideal that high-level British officers at the time were at least supposed to strive for. He treats the entire Colonial War as a sporting game with temporary enemies, and is more than willing to hold a civil negotiation with Benjamin Martin. At least at first. His subordinate Colonel Tavington, whose brutal, unprofessional conduct in battle initially earns him furious rebukes from Cornwallis, is eventually given free reign to engage in war crimes after Cornwallis has been dealt a personal slight by Martin.
  • Off with His Head!: Benjamin and Gabriel witness the battle of Camden which shows a young soldier get decapitated by a cannonball.
  • Old Shame: In-universe, Benjamin Martin's tenure during the French And Indian War.
    Benjamin: "We were... heroes".
  • 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 in the shoulder, leading to a rather fierce duel between Benjamin and the now very pissed-off Tavington in the midst of the battle.
  • Onrushing Army: During Cowpens, the two armies charge at each other and clash in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Papa Wolf: Benjamin Martin is firmly against a war for independence and submissive towards the over-the-top villain... until his farm is burned down, one of his sons is killed, and another is arrested and taken away to be hanged. Then he goes after the Redcoats with muskets and hatchets...
  • 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!
    • Gabriel also gets into a dispute with his own father Benjamin when he wants to join the colonial military. Benjamin, who is a veteran of the French and Indian War, is insistent on Gabriel not going because Benjamin knows that War Is Hell and his first priority is his family, but Gabriel just sees it as cowardice and joins against his father's wishes.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: During the French and Indian War, Benjamin and his men hunted down a French unit that had brutally killed some British settlers, with the implication the men were tortured and the women and children were raped and killed. As payback, Benjamin had the French soldiers brutally tortured to death and sent their various discarded body parts back to the remaining French as a warning. He's still traumatized by it.
  • Pet the Dog: Ben was kind enough to take care of the two Great Danes he captured despite planning on eating them earlier.
  • 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 expressly 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.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: The final exchange between Tavington and Martin, during the climatic battle at Cowpens.
    Colonel Tavington:Kill me before the war is over, will you? It appears, that you are not, the better man.
    [Tavington moves to behead Martin with his sword, but Martin dodges the sword at the last minute and stabs Tavington with a bayonet in the stomach]
    Benjamin Martin: You're right. *grabs bayonet and holds it at Tavington's neck* My sons were better men. *stabs Tavington*
  • Pretty Little Headshots: John's suicide doesn't seem to leave an exit wound at all despite being fired right up against his head. Especially odd given this is an R-rated film, so lack of gore to keep the rating down wasn't really an issue.
  • Psycho Smirk: Tavington's perpetual expression varies between this or a snarling grimace.
  • Pummeling the Corpse: In the tomahawk fight scene, Martin continues hacking at a British soldier in rage after it is clear that the soldier is already long dead. This is right after the commander of the dragoons shot his second oldest son and tried to have his oldest son hanged as a spy.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Pretty much all the British soldiers that aren't Tavington. The worst you can really say about them is that they look down upon the colonials. Hell, you even get the feeling Tavington is pretty disliked on even a personal level.
  • 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 murdered.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Martin's militia.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: So common even children know of it.
    "They'll probably kill us men, and Lord knows what they'll do to you women."
  • Red Shirt Armies: Both sides have plenty of minor people who are easy cannon fodder (with one even wearing red uniforms.]]
  • Refusal of the Call: Ben Martin initially opposes revolution against the crown and does not join the war when it starts. He only gets involved after the British attack his home and family.
  • 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.
  • 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 for the time. This becomes a point of contention between the militia members recruited by Gabriel who want to fight honorably to uphold the sanctity of their cause, and the rough backwoodsman recruited by Martin who have no qualms about cruelty and see the other faction as weak-hearted. This is later subverted however, when Benjamin and his militia first try out their no-killing policy - and are promptly counter-ambushed by Colonel Tavington's Dragoons, thus suggesting their previous ruthlessness was either justified, or at least that by that point the war and the brutal tactics being used have escalated too far for either side to back down.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • 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.
    • Also, the ambush can be considered as both a Roaring Rampage of Rescue to save Gabriel and a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as mentioned above.
  • Running Gag: Gabriel and Anne have — and continue to — slip ink into one another's tea. Both are seen at one point or another smiling with ink-stained teeth)
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Thomas.
  • Satellite Character:
    • General O'Hara can only be described as "that other British general with Cornwallis". His sole scene away from the man is when he stops Tavington from picking a fight with Martin during the parley.
    • William Martin has very little dialogue, no major plot importance and seems to serve as an extension of his older siblings.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Gabriel commented on several occasions how Benjamin should 'stay the course' when it cones to fighting the British and hold off on getting revenge until after the cause is won - however, when Anne is killed by Tavington, he conveniently forgets all of that as he rushes off to avenge her. See Too Dumb to Live for the result of his hypocrisy.
  • Settle for Sibling: Benjamin Martin is a widower with seven children at the start, but he's on good terms with his sister-in-law and visits her with his family from time to time, who becomes a sort of surrogate mother for her nephews and nieces. They eventually get married by the end of the war.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Benjamin is still traumatized by fighting in the French and Indian War, particularly what happened at Fort Wilderness. It's why he's so reluctant to fight in the Revolutionary War.
  • Shirtless Scene: As if there wasn't enough reason to like Tavington...
  • Shipper on Deck: Judging by the children's reactions when Benjamin and Charlotte kiss, they've apparently been waiting for them to get together for a while.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Benjamin Martin rescues his son Gabriel from certain execution by slaughtering a band of around twenty British soldiers. The second-to-last soldier tries to use Gabriel as a human shield. Martin, who is wielding a tomahawk, simply takes a second to carefully aim and lobs the axe into the soldier's head.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The movie doesn't forget to show the fact that the French army was a powerful ally of the American revolutionaries, while also showing that the Kingdom of France did it more to weaken its old British enemy rather than for the Revolution itself.
    • Captain Wilkins is a colonial who sides with the British and serves in British army, considering the rebels to be 'traitors to the crown.' Around a third of the colonists stayed loyal to Great Britain in reality, and many returned there after the war was lost. (Notably, this included Benjamin Franklin's son)
    • Characters constantly refer to the city of "Charles' Town", as Charleston, South Carolina was known as until the end of the war in 1783.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Inverted. The film starts in early 1776 (the Declaration of Independence had not yet been signed) and ends in either late 1781 or early 1782 (after the Siege of Yorktown and British surrender). The children noticeably do not age five years.
  • Sophisticated as Hell
    General Lord Cornwallis: (referring to a replacement formal coat) It's 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's a nice horse blanket.
    • Then later on in the same scene:
    General Lord Cornwallis:...Give me the horse blanket...
  • Spiritual Successor: Mel Gibson Hates The English, Part II. Also known as "Braveheart with Flintlocks". Followed by Mel Gibson Just Hates People Represented By The Color Red.
  • The Starscream: Tavington has shades of this, such as being angered by Cornwallis scolding him for using brutal tactics, creating the "Ghost", and in the climax he had his troops march on, completely ignoring Wilkins when he brought up Cornwallis not giving orders yet. Though he's not trying to take over from Cornwallis, he just feels he's holding him back.
    Cornwallis: Damn him! Damn that man!
  • 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.
  • Token Evil Teammate: While the British are inarguably the antagonists of the movie and are portrayed as arrogant snobs, they're also honorable, Punch-Clock Villain soldiers just fulfilling their duty. Tavington is the exception; his cruelty is repeatedly reprimanded by Cornwallis, and it earns him the scorn and horror of everybody around him.
  • Token Good Teammate: The only decent British officer (except perhaps for Cornwallis's aide O'Hara) was the guy who thanked the Martins for caring for the wounded redcoats. He gets killed anyway when Gabriel is rescued.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Gabriel takes too long to kill Tavington, taking his time by retrieving his knife and trying to stab him instead of using his musket to beat him to death. Subsequently, Tavington rolls upright and stabs Gabriel in the chest with his saber before fleeing.
    • Thomas as well. If he didn't interfere with Gabriel's arrest, he would've survived after the first half hour of the film.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Margret and Susan are the only daughters in the Martin family.
  • Underling with an F in PR: Colonel Tavington, the field commander of the British dragoons, adopts extremely harsh policies towards the Americans, having wounded enemy soldiers gunned down and setting fire to the homes of non-combatants who sheltered them. General Cornwallis berates Tavington for his savagery, calling it unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman and reminding him of the King's wishes that there will be a reconciliation with the colonists (their fellow countrymen) after the rebellion is put down. He later rightfully points out that Tavington's cruelty has directly motivated men like Benjamin Martin to take up arms.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Despite the Martins treating the British soldiers as well as Continentals, Tavington has their home burned down anyway, for "harbouring" rebels.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Fueled when Thomas is killed and used to destroy a British detachment.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Reverend Oliver's choice to help Gabriel kill Captain Borden winds up costing him dearly when he turns back to deal with Tavington and gets a round in his abdomen, as Tavington used that time to prepare his pistol.
  • Villainous BSoD: General O'Hara can barely stammer out the order to retreat after the British defeat at Cowpens.
  • Villainous Friendship: Generals Cornwallis and O'Hara are shown to be quite cordial and friendly with each other. Truth in Television, they were friends in real life, with Cornwallis bailing out O'Hara out of bad debts and offering to have O'Hara come with him to India when he was appointed Governor-General.
  • War Is Hell: The first glimpses of war shown are enemy occupations, bitter defeats and retreats, soldiers suffering though harsh conditions and giving in to despair and the murder of captured rebels.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Thomas dies within the first half hour of the film.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The scene when Martin and some of his old war buddies slaughter the surrendering redcoats. The rest of the group is scandalized, making Martin realize the brutality of their actions.
  • White Shirt of Death: Benjamin wears a white shirt during his attack on the British detachment that took Gabriel. By the end of the battle, his shirt is soaked with blood. Very little, if any, of it is his.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: For some reason, Tavington insists on taking Gabriel Martin back to British headquarters to be hanged instead of just shooting him on the spot. This is odd, seeing as he orders all the other continental soldiers he finds at the Martin farm to be to shot right then and there. Justified though, as he considers Gabriel to be a spy for carrying colonial dispatches and wants to use the execution to set an example to dissuade others from doing likewise.
  • The "Why Wait?" Combatant: Colonel Tavington responds with these exact words when Benjamin Martin tells him that he will kill him before the war is over.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Colonel Tavington's first scene involves him murdering Thomas.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: Tavington immediately recognizes Martin when he visits the British camp under a white flag. He gloats about killing Martin's teenage son, which Martin actually did witness first-hand, but Tavington is simply doing so in an attempt to provoke a violent response from Martin.
    Tavington: [shouting at Martin] I remember you, that farm and that stupid little boy! Did he die? (Martin stops in his tracks) It's an ugly business, doing one's duty, but just occasionally, it's a real pleasure.
  • Wretched Hive: Where Benjamin goes to recruit men for his militia. Them getting pissed at someone shouting "God save King George!" tells him he's in the right place.
  • Written by the Winners: While the atrocities showed in the movie often did have basis as real events (the war in the South WAS a very barbaric conflict), the movie overemphasized the British atrocities grossly (which were often the result of the Loyalist Americans rather than the redcoats) and forgets many of the equally horrific atrocities committed by the Patriots. Generally, the war in the south was just a bunch of locals using the war as an excuse to settle old scores. And new scores.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Cornwallis is an extremely skilled tactician, with even Benjamin acknowledging his ability, but he's completely out of his depth fighting against guerrillas.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: There's a particularly cruel rendition of the "You said you'd let me go" variation, when a man gives up the location of the militia to Colonel Tavington, right before he has the man and everyone else in his town locked in a church and burned to death.
    Mr. Hardwick: But... You said we'd be forgiven!