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The Patriot (2000) - Plot Summary Poster

(2000)

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Summaries

  • It is 1776 in colonial South Carolina. Benjamin Martin, a French-Indian war hero who is haunted by his past, now wants nothing more than to live peacefully on his small plantation, and wants no part of a war with the most powerful nation in the world, Great Britain. Meanwhile, his two eldest sons, Gabriel and Thomas, can't wait to enlist in the newly formed "Continental Army." When South Carolina decides to join the rebellion against England, Gabriel immediately signs up to fight...without his father's permission. But when Colonel William Tavington, British dragoon, infamous for his brutal tactics, comes and burns the Martin Plantation to the ground, tragedy strikes. Benjamin quickly finds himself torn between protecting his family, and seeking revenge along with being a part of the birth of a new, young, and ambitious nation.

  • After proving himself on the field of battle in the French and Indian War, Benjamin Martin wants nothing more to do with such things, preferring the simple life of a farmer. But when his son Gabriel enlists in the army to defend their new nation, America, against the British, Benjamin reluctantly returns to his old life to protect his son, now serving under his command, and his family from British tyranny.

  • Ashamed of his savagery during the French and Indian War, Benjamin Martin decided he would sit out the American Revolution, while his oldest son Gabriel enlisted minutes after South Carolina joined the fight. He changes his mind when his house is burned down and one of his children is killed by the savage Green Dragoon commander Colonel Tavington. Quickly realizing that traditional 18th century warfare tactics won't work, Martin organizes militiamen into a guerilla unit to harass Cornwallis' army long enough to allow the French to arrive.

  • Benjamin Martin is a South Carolina planter who is still haunted by his notoriously brutal past as a soldier in the French and Indian War. When the American Revolution comes, he chooses not to fight for the Continental Army because he wants to protect his family. But when the British Colonel Tavington threatens their welfare and kills one of his sons, he chooses to enlist. Martin becomes the leader of a makeshift militia, which consists of peasants, slaves, a minister, and assorted other irregulars. During the war Martin and his men discover that they will pay a steep personal price for their rebellion. But thanks to their courage and bravery, they are also destined to pay a pivotal role in turning the tide against the Redcoats.

  • Peaceful farmer Benjamin Martin is driven to lead the Colonial Militia during the American Revolution when a sadistic British officer murders his son.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the 1754-1760 French and Indian War, is a widower raising his seven children (five sons and two daughters) on his farm in South Carolina. He manages his land with free servants and employs in carpentry, particularly fashioning rocking chairs, though he has little success with it.

    His eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), is keenly interested in the fighting between the American colonies and the British; the Revolutionary War has been waged in other colonies for some time, though Benjamin does not share his enthusiasm in war. When word comes in that a congress is being held in Charleston regarding the war, Gabriel and his brother Thomas (Gregory Smith) eagerly accompany their father. While there, it is voted that South Carolina join the war against the British despite Benjamin's advice against it. Being of age, Gabriel enlists in the Continental army without his father's permission. Colonel Harry Burwell (Chris Cooper), a friend and ally of Benjamin's, regards Gabriel's similarities to his father and promises to watch out for him. The war wages on for two more years and Gabriel writes letters to his family throughout. Thomas is caught by Benjamin, trying on a redcoat stored away in his father's war chest, and expresses his desire to join the army. Though Benjamin refuses to let him join, he relents that Thomas may enlist when he's seventeen in two years.

    One night, gunfire erupts outside the Martin home and the family watches as a battle ensues just beyond their property. A lone and wounded soldier enters the home. As Benjamin draws a pistol to the stranger, it is revealed to be Gabriel, en route to deliver dispatches. Benjamin gives him care, and to the rest of the wounded soldiers, both Continental and British, through the night into morning. The porch is used as a makeshift ward and Benjamin receives praise from a British lieutenant (Grahame Wood) before a cavalry of British Dragoons, led by Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), arrives. Tavington is given the discovered dispatches and orders the identity of the carrier. Gabriel turns himself in, hoping to spare his family punishment, but Tavington orders that the Continental troops be killed and the house burned for having harbored the enemy. Benjamin begs lenience but is silenced as Gabriel is led away. Impatient Thomas runs forward and tries to free Gabriel but is ruthlessly shot by Tavington. Thomas dies in his father's arms as Tavington insults him and rides off. His soldiers set the house on fire while Gabriel is led away on a separate convoy and the home servants, including housekeeper Abigail (Beatrice Bush) are forced into British service.

    Enraged, Benjamin goes back into the burning house and grabs his collection of rifles and ammo from his war chest along with a tomahawk. He returns to his remaining children and instructs his daughters, Margaret (Mika Boorem) and Susan (Skye McCole Bartusiak) , and his youngest son William (Logan Lerman) to hide in the fields before making their way to their aunt's come nightfall. He then gives rifles to his older sons, Nathan (Trevor Morgan) and Samuel (Bryan Chafin) , and tells them to come with him. They make their way through the forest, arriving on a hillside ahead of the British convoy with the intent to ambush them. As the convoy passes, Benjamin and his sons alternate gunfire, creating confusion and chaos in the British ranks. The soldiers are quickly killed off and Benjamin shows his fierce brutality when he takes his tomahawk vengefully to one of the British privates. Gabriel is freed and they reunite with the rest of the family at Charlotte Shelton's (Joely Richardson) plantation, the sister of Benjamin's late wife. Young Samuel goes to bed distraught over the events of the day but Nathan tells his father he was glad to kill the British soldiers.

    A solitary survivor of the convoy attack is brought to Tavington. The man gives his testimony and explains that it seemed that just one man was responsible for the attack, proclaiming him as a 'ghost' of some kind. Tavington is skeptical but surprised that such a thing could happen.

    Gabriel decides to rejoin the Continentals, stating his decision as the duty of a soldier, and Benjamin decides, with hesitation, to accompany him. They leave the children with Charlotte and later witness a battle in an open field behind the home of fleeing colonists. Benjamin explains to Gabriel that the form of set-piece warfare (opponents directly facing each other and taking turns firing) is barbaric and that this particular battle was over before it began. They meet up with Colonel Burwell who asks Benjamin to organize a militia to keep General Charles Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) at bay in the south before French navy reinforcements arrive. Benjamin and Gabriel split up. Gabriel travels to a quaint town and is reunited with a childhood flame, Anne Howard (Lisa Brenner). He speaks to the townspeople within their church and, with Anne's patriotic encouragement, manages to enlist many, including local Dan Scott (Donal Logue) and Reverend Oliver (Rene Auberjonois). Before leaving, he asks permission of Anne's father, Peter Howard (Joey D. Vieira), to write to her.

    Benjamin rides with French officer Jean Villeneuve (Tchéky Karyo) to a shady colonist bar where Ben proves the potential of the supposed drunkards by proclaiming 'Long live King George' and receiving violent reaction. Among the enlistees is John Billings (Leon Rippy), an old friend of Ben's whose young son shares his contempt for 'redcoats'. John jokes with Ben, saying that rumors have spread of a tomahawk-wielding ghost wreaking havoc on British soldiers. The moniker sticks. Over the next few months, Villeneuve assists with the training of the militia using guerilla fighting tactics and they plunder and harass British convoys and supply lines. One such capture yields valuable information meant to be delivered to Cornwallis himself, including a personal diary and his prized Great Danes. Cornwallis is greatly frustrated with the failure to capture the 'ghost' and his militia and blames Tavington for his callous cruelty, having spawned the creation of the 'ghost' in the first place. As he attends a lavish party, a supply ship in the bay outside his plantation explodes in a brilliant display while Benjamin and his men row away disguised as redcoats, having stolen all the luxuries on board.

    Benjamin and Gabriel visit Anne's hometown where Gabriel calls on her and spends the night, sewn by Anne's mother (Mary Jo Deschanel) into a traditional bundling bag, meant to allow courtship but deter intimacy. Upon leaving the next morning, Gabriel's teeth are stained black from ink poured into his tea; payback from Anne for a childhood prank, however her teeth are equally stained after she kisses Gabriel goodbye. Benjamin and his men set up a roadblock and prepare to ambush an approaching supply wagon train. He calls out his militia hiding in the fields to intimidate the British soldiers from retaliating, but the wagon covers are pulled back and more soldiers emerge. When Benjamin notices Tavington's cavalry approaching, he fires at the convoy and orders his men to retreat. Some men are killed outright and Dan Scott is injured. A slave promised freedom for fighting with the colonists, Occam (Jay Arlen Jones), stops to help Dan, despite the fact that Dan was against the promise of freedom to slaves who fought. Benjamin and Gabriel barely escape into the forest as the rest of the surviving militia are either killed or captured upon surrender.

    The remaining militia fall back to an abandoned stone chapel in the swamp. Gabriel speaks to Benjamin as he melts pewter toy soldiers that once belonged to Thomas, molding them into bullets. Gabriel asks what truly happened at Fort William Henry, the assault of which Benjamin was involved in but never openly told to his children. Benjamin tells of how, in retaliation for what the French-led Indians did to the British, he and other men engaged in guerilla warefare against them, taking fierce revenge. It was something that Benjamin regretted for years afterwards because of its brutality. Gabriel assures Benjamin that, while he still wants revenge for what happened to Thomas, it would be best to stay the course and keep fighting on level ground. They are interrupted as Occum and Dan emerge from the swamps. Occum tells of how the captured militia are to be hanged for treason and Benjamin comes up with a plan. He requests parlay to meet with Cornwallis at the fort where the militia is being held and rides out with his Great Danes. Cornwallis is pleased to see his dogs and thanks Benjamin for caring for them, but is reluctant to give up his prisoners of war. However, he is forced to free them when Benjamin reveals he is holding several British soldiers of high rank captive, their red uniforms barely visible on a distant hill. Benjamin leaves with his men and, with a whistle, the Great Danes as well, now loyal to him. On his way out, he meets Tavington and promises to kill him once the war is over. Tavington confronts Cornwallis about the exchange of prisoners but is rebuffed and scolded for his otherwise unconventional tactics in war. Cornwallis is, however, resigned to Tavington's crueller methods when Captain Wilkins (Adam Baldwin) walks in with one of the redcoat captives; nothing more than a scarecrow.

    Cornwallis authorizes Tavington to issue harsher methods of intimidation against the militia. Tavington decides to track down the families of the militia and rides out to Charlotte's plantation, burning it to the ground. She and the children, however, manage to escape and find refuge at a beach colony inhabited by former slaves. There, they are reunited with Abigail. Benjamin and Gabriel arrive some time later, as do Anne's family. Gabriel proposes and the two are married. Benjamin gives Anne his late wife's necklace which has a talisman of Polaris, the north star. He explains that the star is a symbol of unwavering strength and serves as a constant guide. Benjamin begins to bond with Charlotte, having grown feelings for her and, when he and Gabriel prepare to leave, shares a tender moment with his youngest child, Susan, who speaks to him for the first time since her mother's death.

    Anne and her family return to their hometown after the wedding while Gabriel moves on with his father and the rest of the militia. There, they find that the town has been taken control of by Tavington's cavalry and are forced into the church with the rest of the townspeople. Tavington orders the doors and windows barred and the church to be burned. A stunned Wilkins reluctantly does so and the cavalry leaves. Anne and her family are left to die.

    Arriving in town elsewhere, Benjamin and his men discover that many of the townsfolk have been brutally murdered. John Billings finds his wife and young son dead in the street and, overwhelmed, puts a pistol to his head. Benjamin allows his men to go check on their families with the assurance that, if they do not return to the swamp chapel, they will not be deemed cowards. Gabriel rides with Benjamin to check on Anne and find the town empty and the church destroyed. Benjamin notes the chains on the charred doors and, upon looking through the rubble, finds the star necklace he had given Anne lying in the ashes. Burwell appears behind him and tells him that Gabriel is gone. Taking only a few men with him, Gabriel rides after Tavington's men and catches them off guard as Tavington shaves in a creek. All of the men, British and militia, are killed until Reverend Oliver takes aim at Tavington who shoots him. His rifle still loaded, Oliver tosses it to Gabriel before collapsing and Gabriel shoots at Tavington, knocking him down. Filled with rage and bent on revenge, Gabriel takes a knife and leans over Tavington's body. Tavington, however, spins around and stabs Gabriel through with a bayonnet; Gabriel's shot had missed. Tavington flees, leaving Gabriel moaning in the grass, as Benjamin and other men arrive. Gabriel apologizes for Thomas before dying in Benjamin's arms.

    Benjamin mourns Gabriel's passing, watching over his body in a tent in a Continental encampment. Burwell tries to console him and encourage him to keep fighting, but Benjamin's spirit is broken and he fears that his past sins have finally caught up to him. Villeneuve berates Benjamin's resignation and tells him of how he watched as his wife and two daughters were strung up on a ship overrun by British soldiers and burned alive.

    The Continentals leave Benjamin and continue to their next decisive battle at Cowpens. However, they soon spot Benjamin riding forward to meet them, carrying an American flag; he has promised himself to stay the course as Gabriel once told him. Together, the Continentals and the militia fight against the British at Cowpens and prove to be a formidable force. Watching the battle from afar, Tavington is impatient and decides, against Cornwallis' commands, to charge forth with his Dragoons. Benjamin rallies the militia to push forward and soon faces off with Travington, dueling fiercely until Travington manages to wound Benjamin, forcing him to the ground. As he is about to behead Benjamin, Travington berates him for wanting to kill him before war's end. "It appears you are not the better man," he says and lunges, but Benjamin grabs hold of a bayonnet-fitted musket at the last moment and stabs Travington through the gut. As Travington lies on the ground, stunned, Benjamin takes a broken bayonnet and replies, "You're right...my sons were better men." before stabbing him through the neck.

    General Cornwallis sounds the retreat of his forces and the rebels celebrate. In narration, Benjamin tells of how the British were defeated later that year at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. The French navy finally arrived to blockade the British and Cornwallis was bombarded by both the Continentals and the French, holed up in his mansion. He finally acknowledges defeat and surrenders, saying "Everything will change...everything has changed." Benjamin returns to his family and greets a freed Occum at a site where new homes are to be built, starting with the Martins'.

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