There are no heroes in this Alamo. Instead, John Lee Hancock’s The Alamo is a movie without victors, or even stars. Even with Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton headlining, this movie is more about the sum of its parts than making heroes out of any men. In fact, the film goes out of its way to be self-deprecating to the point of becoming a hindrance to its own story line.
Originally created as a starring vehicle for Russell Crowe, to be filmed by his A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard; both walked after the studio refused the proposed $125 million budget. Rather, the film is pared down from prince to pauper, as The Alamo instead re-teams the less-renowned director Hancock with his Rookie star Dennis Quaid. The picture still ballooned well past the new, reduced-priced $75 million budget.
It’s phenomenal to think that a movie boasting a cast of historic figures, like the legendary Davy Crockett and other history-class-notables Sam Houston and Jim Bowie, could somehow be without a central figure, but The Alamo is.
Focusing firmly on the battle instead of those involved, we quickly find our group of ragtag Texans surrounded by the half-hour point of the film. From there, we spend what we think is the rest of the film waiting for the final battle at the Alamo.
Supposedly intended to be a three hour long film, it’s chopped to pieces to make it a slightly leaner two hours and 17 minutes – a tactic that sacrifices any real in-depth look at its characters or their flaws.
What we’re left with is an inconsistent glance at these men, and a film that tries too hard to de-glorify them, by emphasizing that Bowie and Houston are both fall-down drunks, Colonel William Barrett Travis abandoned his pregnant wife to flee to Texas and Davy Crockett (who prefers David) only showed up at the Alamo because he thought the fighting was over, so who are we left to root for?
These would-be icons are left to be massacred, their mystique and legend (once their saving grace) long since taken away from them. But Billy Bob Thornton shows up to steal scenes from every other member of the cast. His Crockett is the one character with any weight in the film, at times seemingly going from scene to scene with a story or a speech to make.
The best scene in the movie is a camera pan from man to man, complete with voiceover, about the letters they’re writing to loved ones back home as they await an inevitable fate. But one of the most basic problems with this film is that it lacks the insight that one scene suggests – these men are on the cusp of death, and only Davy Crockett has anything to say about it.
The film doesn’t stop there though. After the massacre at the Alamo, it continues on for another 30 minutes to encompass Sam Houston’s battle with Mexican General Santa Anna at San Jacinto.
In the end, glimpses of patriotism, hints at depth and Thornton’s take on Davy Crockett can’t save The Alamo from being unfortunately, forgettable.
Brian Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org