The Alamo's director and cowriter, native Texan John Lee Hancock, says in his movie's press materials that past films lacked historical accuracy. Let those other tales make myths of men; Hancock's will make men of myths. And so we have a Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) who prefers to be called David and refuses to wear the coonskin cap unless it's "really cold"; a William Travis (Patrick Wilson) who admits to gambling, whoring and abandoning his pregnant wife; a Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) who stays away from San Antonio not to form an army but to draft a constitution and form a government at Washington-on-the-Brazos; and a Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) who spends the majority of the film confined to a bed, sick with typhoid and consumption. "People expect things," Crockett says of living up to his legend.
But there's nothing new here. Hancock's Alamo is like a cover of a song you know by heart, with only minor changes made here and there. (One odd alteration is Emilio Echevarría's Santa Anna, turned into a preening, teeth-gnashing big-screen baddie who looks like an aging drag queen in Napoleon's hat.) The result is something that feels like an overachieving made-for-TV movie, a history lesson dolled up like an action movie. But the action is relegated to the final third, and even then, the battle is over before it really begins.
Hancock, whose The Rookie proved that the only thing more boring than watching a Texas Rangers baseball game is watching a movie that ends at a Texas Rangers baseball game, is stuck in an untenable situation. To make the movie more realistic, he strips away the haze of legend to give us people talking about dying and waiting to die. They know they're doomed, and so do we. But in doing so, Hancock and his legion of screenwriters (including Traffic's Stephen Gaghan) and historians and technical advisers make these men impressively uninteresting and unsympathetic. We like our movie heroes larger than life. Here, they shrink to the point of invisibility.
Even more perplexing, Hancock shies away from showing any bloodshed during the fall of the Alamo. It's a PG-13 massacre, which guarantees a lifetime of screenings in Texas middle schools but ultimately strips the battle of its shock and significance. Audiences weaned on the Lord of the Rings films, with their ostentatious castle-storming sequences, will find The Alamo downright timorous.
But most galling is how Hancock has given The Alamo the Pearl Harbor treatment. Every film made about the fall of the Alamo ends with the slaughter -- the teary finale, followed by the solemn coda during which the audience is asked to mourn in silence as they head for the exits. Not this time. Here, Hancock is in full Michael Bay mode, tacking onto his story of sacrifice a final tale of heroism and victory: Houston's defeat of Santa Anna and his forces in the field at San Jacinto, leading to Santa Anna's surrender of Texas. An Alamo with a happy ending -- now, that is revolutionary.