3 STARS – Thought-provoking
As the opening words of John Lee Hancock’s “The Alamo” explain, the Alamo was built as a Christian church in 1718 by the peaceful Franciscans. But instead of being a sanctuary in which the “Prince of Peace” was worshipped, it became the fortified battleground for repeated wars. Fought within the shadow of the cross, these bloody campaigns only reinforced the message of Christian faith that our “warring madness” needs God’s healing.
Created as an historical piece which corrects many of the myths surrounding the battle of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana’s (Emilio Echevarria) siege of the Mission, the film is difficult to watch not only because of its realistic violence but also because of the racism apparent at that time. As a battle of “Texian” liberators fighting against the Mexican government who laid claim to Texas, the racial dehumanizing that is always a part of war permeates the film. The Mexican people are presented in caricatured form, prophesying their own future of becoming dependent on Americans if they lose this war.
The leaders of the Texas forces are men of mythical renown. Struggling with reputations which were created in part by the plays and articles written in their honor, Davy Crocket (Billy Bob Thornton), Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), and Sam Huston (Dennis Quaid) find themselves fatefully united in this struggle in part because of the myths that have grown up around them. This is expressed most clearly by Davy Crocket.
Realizing that he has inadvertently left his security as a Senator from Tennessee and stepped into a battle for independence, Crocket is captured both by the Mexican army and the expectations of his own countrymen. Expressing his situation to Bowie, Crocket explains that if he was just “David from Tennessee” he would leave. But he is “Davy Crocket” and everyone expects something more from him, something he does deliver to some extent.
In a moment of clear leadership, Crocket counters the incessant drill band of Santa Ana, which would play before their cannons would fire at them each night. Climbing onto the tower of the Mission wall, Crocket plays his fiddle along with the band in a blend of their melodies. As a consequence, the Mexican army does not fire on the Mission that night. Crocket notes that “It is amazing what a little harmony will do.”
Although the fall of the Alamo and the deaths of Crocket, Bowie and Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson) were part of a loss of approximately 150 men, this battle was used by Sam Huston to garner an army who attacked the splintered Santa Ana forces weeks later and captured the General in only eighteen minutes of fighting. Signing over the rights to Texas in exchange for his own life, The Alamo became the defining battle in the liberation of Texas.
The outcomes of wars are most often told by those whose victory writes the history. It is difficult to imagine what would have been different if the people involved in this conflict could have diplomatically rather than militarily decided their future. For this to happen, the egos of the leaders on both sides would have needed to be nailed to the cross of “The Alamo.”
- The attempt to portray the legends of the Alamo not as heroes on pedestals but as “fallen” people removes much that is good from any of the leaders. Though standing in a church, there is no prayer, no worship, no mention of God. Do you believe these Americans would not have prayed in their hour of peril? How do American soldiers call on their faith today in similar danger?
- The portrayal of Gen. Santa Ana as an egotistical tyrant who cared nothing for his own soldiers made it easier for American viewers to accept the “liberation” by the “Texians” of his rule. Do you believe him to be this way, or was this also a caricature?
- The military knowledge of Sam Huston led Santa Ana into dividing his army and being summarily defeated. This study of war makes us more effective in winning battles. What would you suggest we do to become more effective in winning peace? Can we do so with simple knowledge, or must we address the deeper spiritual issues within all humanity?
- The freedom of Texas from Mexican control eventuated in that region becoming a state of the United States. What do you think would have happened if Mexico had kept control over Texas? How might the future have been different for both nations?