War/Military PG-13 Running time: 2:17
IMDB rating: 6.0 Aspect: Wide; Languages: English, French; Subtitles: French, Spanish; Audio: DD 5.1
Despite a troubled production history including a switch in directors, budget overruns, and delayed release dates, The Alamo turned out to be a remarkably intelligent mini-epic of corrective historical biography. Dispensing with the grandiose myth-making of previous films on this subject (including John Wayne's gung-ho 1960 version), this well-written film breathes new, credibly dimensional life into the stodgy legends of Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton), Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), and Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson), who fought with 185 Anglo-"Texican" settlers (some historians claim their numbers were closer to 250) during the bloody 13-day siege by 5,000 Mexican soldiers at the titular San Antonio mission-turned-fortress in 1836. While Gen. Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) anguishes over military strategy and reluctantly withholds much-needed support, the Alamo defenders face the unbeatable multitudes commanded by Mexican Gen. Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria), and the screenplay (on which John Sayles was an early contributor, when Ron Howard was slated to direct) allows the central heroes to reveal a richer, more substantial humanity beneath their mythic reputations. Tackling his biggest production to date, director John Lee Hancock (who previously worked with Quaid on The Rookie) reportedly shot 100 hours of footage, so it's almost miraculous that this 135-minute battle drama is so evenly balanced in telling its oft-told tale. Thornton was deservedly singled out for his fine performance, and Dean Semler's cinematography is Oscar-worthy throughout. Of course, any film about the Alamo necessarily includes speculative history, and this one's no exception, but it's got a ring of truth that previous versions conspicuously lacked.