Gunning For It 

The Alamo addresses power and responsibility.

Alamo. What a strange name for a car rental company. As I first sat to ponder the film The Alamo and what it would mean to America during this very patriotic and jingoistic time, I wondered what aspect of the Alamo's story motivated the founder of a company to name a business that rents cars after a battleground known for its against-the-odds massacre of American soldiers.

So, I went to Alamo.com and looked up its history, and all it says is this: "Alamo Rent a Car started in 1974 with four locations in Florida, pioneering the concept of Unlimited Free Mileage. Immediately carving its niche in the leisure car rental industry, Alamo focused its mission on providing a fun, low-cost, high-value rental experience to family and leisure travelers."

Anyway. People died at the Alamo, and while they did so bravely, they did so because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reason. Texas belonged to Mexico. Like the rest of the geographic United States, our forefathers lied, cheated, fought, killed, and stole to get from one coast to another. Texas was a spoil of war, and Sam Houston is considered a hero for managing to defeat, in battle, a general who was positioned to relinquish it.

I liked The Alamo. As history, I hear that its inaccuracies outweigh its accuracies, but as a film it is enjoyable, not horrifically violent as other action-ers have been recently, and it addresses, to a certain degree, the power and responsibility that come with legend. There are four legends here, each at odds with the other to some extent: Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid), William Travis (Patrick Wilson), Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), and Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton).

Houston navigates the bureaucracy surrounding the acquisition of Texas by the U.S. Troops are placed at the Alamo when it is thought that the Mexican army has moved out of the area. But the tyrannical General de Santa Ana has tricked the "Texians" and returned.

Meanwhile, there are two egos battling for control of the Alamo's men: fancily uniformed, bookish Travis and the rough 'n' ready Bowie. Both are too big for their respective britches, and both have lessons to learn about respect. In the midst of all of this is the visiting Davy Crockett -- onetime Tennessee congressman and legendary sharpshooter and "bear wrestler." When the Mexicans surround the Alamo and force a waiting game, Crockett balances the opposing Travis and Bowie, who is ailing from "consumption" (modern-day tuberculosis or, as my Texan friend pronounced it, "syphilis" -- scandal!). All the while, Houston waits it out miles away, hoping for reinforcements to arrive -- wise enough not to commit his own soldiers to slaughter without proper backup. Two weeks after surrounding the Alamo, Santa Ana's troops surprise the exhausted Texans and the legendary defeat ensues.

What weakens this big-screen Alamo is the sense that it doesn't know who the story is about. We start and end with Houston, but it's Travis' lessons and changes we follow most closely. We spend the most time with Crockett, but it is Bowie who is afforded dream and fantasy sequences. The film would have done well to focus on one of these men more closely. It is Crockett who gets the best lines and the best moments, though, thanks in no small part to Thornton, who has as much charisma and humanity as any working film actor. His violin serenade, which accompanies the Mexican battle trumpetry and inspires both sides to a night's peace, is the film's most beautiful and effective scene, while his frequent reminders that there is a difference between Crockett the man and Crockett the legend are excellent theses to inspire all to live within their own sense of who they are and not be slave to the expectations of others.

All of the performances are good, particularly Wilson as Travis, who mines more expression out of his icily intellectual deadpan than, say, Jim Carrey typically can with his famous rubber face. Quaid, meanwhile, shows strength and command without worrying about Houston being likable. Likability is not the point. Victory is.

The other Texan slogan that this film conjures, aside from "Remember the Alamo," is "Don't mess with Texas" (not said in this film, FYI). If Texas history or American war movies appeal to you, you will like this film. If not, then you probably won't. Regardless, this is patient, introspective action filmmaking, and it sure does explain a lot about Texans.

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