American <i>Braveheart</i>

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speaks during debate at ACLU Membership Conference, Sunday Oct. 15, 2006 in Washington.
This week CBS News Sunday Morning critic John Leonard reviews Columbia Pictures' The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and Joely Richardson.
The Patriot, opening everywhere this week, is really Braveheart without the pipes and kilts. But Mel Gibson waves the flag of a brand-new nation as if he were storming Iwo Jima.

And the South Carolina farmboy militia follows him through blood to glory as if to write a Second Amendment even before they get around to a Constitution. And the British behave like Serbs in Bosnia or Kosovo. The Patriot, while very long and very corny, is also fitfully thrilling.

Mel, who still feels guilty about the terrible things he did in the French and Indian Wars, would rather not fight in any revolution. But his No. 1 son, played by Heath Ledger, leaves without him. And when the redcoats close in on his family and his home (the only plantation in South Carolina where black people aren't slaves), he starts to change his mind.

The following day is even worse, with Jason Isaacs as a war criminal who can't be reasoned with. After the slaughter at Camden, Mel teams up with his old buddy Chris Cooper; he will raise a militia and, just like home, give orders to his son Heath.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
Between lots of savage violence, there is time out for doomed romance between Heath and Lisa Brenner before Mel finally notices Joely Richardson, the sister of his dead wife.

But when Mel tricks the British into a prisoner exchange, the evil Jason is livid. And Tom Wilkinson as Lord General Cornwallis ceases to be a gentleman. After which, the American Revolution goes Hollywood.

It's about time we saw the Southern front of our revolution after so many gun-toting pilgrims, after so much George standing up in a boat.

And it's instructive to see what war looked like before automatic weapons and guided missles.

The Patriot also seems to be deploring savagery, as the horrific violence escalates, as men are beheaded, and women and children burn, and Mel's gotta do what Mel's gotta do, as Mad Max has always done.

But in the middle of this deploring, The Patriot also panders. It's the violence that's thrilling. In a bloody tit-for-tat, eacatrocity excuses the next.

At the screening I went to, the audience cheered, as if we were rooting for the death-wish worst in us, as if we were beheaded.