The Alamo


Dennis Quaid as Gen. Sam Houston
Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett
Jason Patric as James Bowie
Patrick Wilson as Col. William Barrett Travis
Emilio Echevarría as Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana
Jordi Mollà as Juan Seguin
Laura Clifton as Susanna Dickinson
Leon Rippy as Sgt. William Ward
Kevin Page as Micajah Autry
Marc Blucas as James Bonham
W. Earl Brown as David Burnet
Dameon Clarke as Mr. Jones
Craig Erickson as Tom Waters
Stewart Finlay-McLennan as Dr. James Grant
Safia Gray as Ursula Alsbury
Kit Gwin as Mrs. Ayers
Tommy G. Kendrick as T. J. Rusk
Nick Kokich as Daniel Cloud
Estephania LeBaron as Juana Alsbury
Robert Prentiss as Albert Grimes
Nathan Price as Charlie Travis
Todd Reimers as Col. James Fannin

The Alamo is a good historical drama that seems to be an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Strong performances by Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and Patrick Wilson keep things interesting. But will anyone outside of Texas care about it?

In 1836, Texas is in the middle of a rebellion with Mexico. Led by Gen. Sam Houston, the Texians wish to break away from Mexico and start a new Republic. However, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana will not allow it and moves his army into Texas to crush the rebellion. Anticipating his attack, Col. William Barrett Travis settles into an old mission fort in San Antiono to makes a stand. The fort is called the Alamo. A small portion of the Texian army as well as Jim Bowie and his volunteers support him. Also joining in the stand is the legendary Davy Crockett and his Tennessee Volunteers. Seeing a political opportunity in the emerging republic, Crockett instead finds himself in the middle of the life or death battle.

When Santa Ana attacks the Alamo, Travis and the rest decide to wait for Sam Houston and reinforcements to arrive. Unfortunately, Houston is unable to rally an army in time and the men, women, and children at the Alamo are left on their own. What ensues is a slaughter that will solidify the Texian resolve and ensure the eventual defeat of Santa Ana and his army.

The Alamo is rated PG-13 for sustained intense battle sequences.

What Worked:
Being from Texas, I have very high standards for any Alamo movie. I’ve had the history of the Alamo drilled into my brain from a young age and I’ve visited the Alamo in San Antonio on several occasions. Not even John Wayne’s classic Alamo movie lived up to my standards. So when I heard this latest Alamo movie was being made by John Lee Hancock, I was a bit skeptical. The trailers for the film didn’t give me any more hope, and neither did the negative rumors. The fact that the film was delayed five months or so wasn’t a promising sign either. So I went into the screening of The Alamo expecting a real dud.

After having seen the film, I’m pleased to say my fears were unfounded. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I thought the characters were realistically portrayed and they got the historical facts as accurate as they could. I also think they explained the historical background of the situation enough that people unfamiliar with that particular piece of history could still follow what was going on.

If you start reading about the Alamo you’ll quickly find that every historian has a different spin on it. There are a lot of different interpretations about what happened and fact and legend are often intertwined. But I think the makers of this particular Alamo movie got the core story right. This isn’t a documentary, but the key events and details seem to be in place. The places where they filled in the blanks, like when Crockett is killed, seem to fit in with the rest of the events of the story. The characters are also really shown “warts and all”. While Bowie, Houston, Crockett, and Travis are revered, they are also shown with all their human faults. Houston is a drunk. Bowie is a violent hothead. Travis cheats on his wife and divorces her. Bowie and Travis are also shown to be slave owners. Crockett tells haunting stories about killing Indians, not bears when he was only 3. This film sorts through the legend to give us a glimpse of what the real men were like. The film also captures the little details like how Mexicans were fighting on both sides of the war and Hispanics were fighting Santa Ana just as much as Anglos. It’s a point that is often glossed over.

The cast in this movie is excellent. Dennis Quaid plays the surly leader of the Texian Army, General Sam Houston. Despite rebelling for opportunistic reasons, he still seems to genuinely care about creating a free republic and a land without oppression from a dictator. Quaid also transitions from drunk to victorious general pretty easily. He makes it believable. While Jason Patric’s character Jim Bowie is knocked out of most of the action due to sickness, he does have a commanding presence in the early part of the movie. He’s a strong character and it’s easy to see why volunteers would fall in behind him. Billy Bob Thornton is also very good as Davy Crockett. This is probably the most human portrayal of the man ever shown on film. Rather than being tough like John Wayne’s version or handsome and soft-spoken like Fess Parker, Thornton is just an average guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances. However, his strong character makes him stand out and is the basis for the legend surrounding him. Despite the famous façade, deep inside Crockett wants to run away to fight another day, and I think Thornton portrayed that well.

The surprise standout from the movie ended up being Patrick Wilson as Col. William Barrett Travis. I’ve never seen him perform before, but he pulled off Travis very well. His character is not a great guy. He cheats on his pregnant wife and divorces her. He is a rigid disciplinarian. He is bold, untested, and doesn’t inspire confidence in his troops. However, by the end of the movie you end up liking him despite his faults. It’s quite an achievement considering that Travis is not a guy audiences typically cheer for. I’ll be interested in seeing what else Patrick Wilson does in the future.

The sets for the film are excellent. The Alamo set appears very accurate (despite big hills in the middle of San Antonio) and the locations are genuine Texas scenery. The Hill Country looks like the Hill Country and the location for the San Jacinto battle looks like East Texas where I live. I’m glad they got that right. The costumes also looked great and set the feel of the era well. I also liked the music in the film by Carter Burwell. It didn’t overwhelm the movie, but the themes were nice sounding and helped set the mood.

Overall, I thought this was a well-made historical drama.

What Didn’t Work:
The first thing I have to wonder while watching The Alamo is how non-Texan audiences will receive the film. I fully recognize that being a Texan will alter my view of the movie and I freely admit that. But it seems to me that many other people have little or no interest in The Alamo and others will be turned off in knowing that all the main characters are slaughtered by the end. It’s not a cheery movie. The film also has long, slow portions devoted to character development that can be tedious to get through. While that didn’t bother me, I can see how it can turn off audiences that are there only for the action. And since I already knew about Houston, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and Santa Ana, I have to wonder if that was an advantage when watching the movie. Were they developed enough as characters for people that weren’t familiar with them? It’s hard for me to say.

Besides that, the movie makes a point of highlighting the blacks, women, and children at the Alamo. Hancock goes to great pains to show them leading up to the final assault at the Alamo, but he doesn’t show what happens to them afterward. From what I read, the Mexican Army spared the women, children, and slaves. That wasn’t shown in the movie, so you’re left thinking they may have possibly been killed as well.

Other than that I have no major gripes about The Alamo.

The Bottom Line:
The Alamo is a solid historical drama that I believe is as historically accurate as possible. I enjoyed the portrayal of Davy Crockett by Billy Bob Thornton as well. I’ll be interested to see how it is received in Texas and around the world.