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Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Hollywood's patriotic battle
Roland Emmerich and Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson (right) with The Patriot director Roland Emmerich
By BBC News Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

This weekend sees a big battle at the US box office as Hollywood idols Mel Gibson and George Clooney face off in a closely watched race.

Mel Gibson portrays the American Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Martin in the historical drama The Patriot, while George Clooney plays skipper Billy Tyne in ocean-going drama The Perfect Storm.

These competing films provide two very different heroes for Americans to embrace over the Fourth of July holiday - one of the busiest times of the year for moviegoing.

Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger plays Gabriel Martin in The Patriot

The Patriot got an early start in that it opened on more than 3000 screens three days ahead of The Perfect Storm.

Its biggest asset is Mel Gibson who has received some strong reviews for his acting.

Gibson, as Benjamin Martin, plays a reluctant warrior who only ends up fighting colonial rule because of an act of British savagery directed against his family.

The ruthless British Colonel William Tavington, portrayed by Jason Isaacs, is the man who inspires hatred in Martin. Tavington is a totally reprehensible figure who seems to take pleasure in slaughtering innocent colonists.

The Patriot will definitely appeal to jingoistic Americans who will find the image of Mel Gibson as a patriotic and violent freedom fighter an irresistible prospect, especially on the weekend when the country is celebrating its independence from Britain.

Joely Richardson
Co-star Joely Richardson caused a stir at The Patriot's première

But what The Patriot has against it is its subject matter. The Revolutionary War - even though it gave birth to the modern American nation - is not a struggle that has in the past translated well into compelling cinema.

The Patriot has already got itself into hot water by provoking outrage, most notably in London newspapers, that it unfairly demonises the British.

Even some American critics think the film is unbalanced and presents the British as evil toffs and savages.

Mel Gibson cautions against taking the film's representations of the British too seriously. "It's a movie, and it's a film with a bias, it's told from a point of view," he says.

But it's not just The Patriot that's caused offence in British quarters, where there's growing alarm over the ever-increasing number of British baddies appearing in American films.

George Clooney at the première of The Perfect Storm
George Clooney's record at the box office is patchy

Christian Bale plays a racist yuppie thug in the just-released remake of Shaft. In Mission: Impossible 2 the Scottish actor Dougray Scott plays the villainous and thoroughly unpleasant Sean Ambrose.

Another British actor, Christopher Eccleston, can be found as a gangster threatening the life of Nicolas Cage in the car-theft drama Gone in 60 Seconds.

The prevalence of British villains may not be mere coincidence.

Many believe that political correctness has made Hollywood extremely reluctant to populate its movies with traditional baddies - and that the British are now perceived as the only safe option in that they can be demonised and are unlikely to protest.

The Perfect Storm, which has been described as an ocean-based Twister without the flying cows cannot be accused of demonizing the British because there are no baddies in this film - except for a truly wicked storm.

George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, the real life skipper of the Andrea Gail, which got trapped in one of the worst Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history.

George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg
George Clooney and Wark Wahlberg at the première of The Perfect Storm

The special effects are tremendous; it is a spectacular roller coast ride on the high-seas with Clooney and Mark Wahlberg acting as hosts.

The characters and dialogue in this film leave a lot to be desired, and even though it is a less satisfactory picture than The Patriot, George Clooney presents a far more humane hero than Mel Gibson.

But Clooney has an uneven track record at the box office.

It's probably fair to assume that The Patriot will, because it is a quite brutal revenge thriller pushing all the right patriotic buttons, probably be the film that wins out in the long run.

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