San Antonio, TX. The Alamo story has graced film reels more than a dozen times. It's Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and Colonel Travis: add a few more ingredients, stir and repeat. Disney's version isn't the R-rated bloodbath that the original director Ron Howard wanted; it's John Lee Hancock's character-based look at a crucial part of Texas history. At the Westin Hotel, Street spoke with the director and the cast of The Alamo.
Native Texan John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) sees this movie as "kinda like the baby pictures of Texas [which could be used to understand] what Texas is today." He claims to have done extensive research, using diaries of the besieged Texans whenever possible. The filmmaker says he didn't want to use Private Ryan-esque slow motion in order to show blood and dismemberment; everything was shot in real-time. Hancock also tried to make the characters in The Alamo more down-to-earth than in previous adaptations.
One of those characters is shuffling in his half-buttoned shirt to expose tufts of gray chest hair. Billy Bob Thornton recalls dressing like his onscreen persona during his childhood days. "Davy Crockett was more of a cartoon character," he says as he gestures with muscle-bound tattooed arms. "He's always been portrayed that way, as a larger-than-life bear hunter who wore a coonskin hat." Thornton captures Crockett as a simple man, somewhat repulsed by battle.
Thornton was struck by how similar he is to Crockett. Apparently so was his co-star: "Dennis Quaid actually said, 'it's really weird because you have a hillbilly star playing a hillbilly star.'" Thornton thinks that, like Crockett, he is a nice, friendly guy with an edge to him: "Every now and then you have to throw people a bone." He jokes, "OK, I ate a cat." To Thornton, that's merely an example of how people see him -- just like Crockett -- as weirder than he envisions himself.
Like Thornton, Jordi Moll… can relate to reticent Juan Seguin, the Alamo's sole survivor. To show proper respect, Molla tried to liken his activities to the tone of his surroundings. "When I work I am quiet," he almost whispers. "I don't like to waste any energy." While the other actors partied, he would not. Molla sees himself as a kind of Seguin, "a quiet character who pays attention to everything, but doesn't say a word."
Jason Patric has most recently made headlines for public intoxication, not for his role in The Alamo. The 37-year-old Patric seems more like a maladjusted teenager than a war hero. Clad in all black, Patric gripes about the hypocrisy of musicians preaching non-conformity and then selling millions of records. His vision of rebels is men like his character, Jim Bowie, the bedridden, yet undeniably charismatic leader of the troops.
Although the actors consider themselves well-suited to their roles, the movie doesn't work. It was a difficult task for Hancock to flesh out six distinct characters. It's even harder to keep them straight in your head if you don't know the history. The movie may play out well in a TV miniseries. Due to time constraints, however, many important events and characters are trivialized, and some less important or contrived elements are overemphasized. Perhaps the three-hour DVD will be more compelling.