Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed Image

Life, like art, is full of stories of amazing men/women who would be known for their greatness if not for a single moment—a lapse in judgment or a misguided tweet from youth. Case in point, when I think of the name Benedict Arnold, I think “traitor.” But he was a great man, and the Revolution would not have been won without him. The case for restoring Benedict Arnold’s honor is made in writer-director Chris Sterns’ documentary Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed.

Stearns employs fifteen historians to tell Arnold’s story, including authorities like Dr. James Kirby Martin, Dr. Ray Raymond, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Thomas Fleming, among many others. The filmmaker pieces together almost two hours of historical testimony with narration from Martin Sheen. Arnold’s life is also dramatized with actors playing key roles, including Peter O’Meara as Benedict Arnold.

Most of Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed highlights the great patriot that Arnold was leaving about twenty minutes in the end to address the infamous treasonous acts and the end of his life in exile. Arnold’s story began in 1775. He’s on the tail end of working off his debts and hopes to restore his good name. Furious with the King of Briton’s Stamp Act, Arnold becomes a staunch supporter of American Independence. So much so that he volunteers to lead an army of patriots from New England.

Arnold shows his great prowess as a naval tactician as he foils British plans to control the Champaign/Hudson Valley corridor. The British had bigger boats armed with larger cannonballs, and like a good indie filmmaker, Arnold holds off and frustrates the British with very little in terms of men and arms. Under his leadership, the colonists captured the all-important Fort Ticonderoga and its vital pencil factory (I added that last part).

“…all Arnold was good for was winning battles, inspiring his men to commit brave acts, and defeating the enemy.”

The problem with Benedict Arnold was being a man of action when success in the newly formed country would go to men of politics. From his peers’ perspective, all Arnold was good for was winning battles, inspiring his men to commit brave acts, and defeating the enemy. As a result, he was not liked (primarily out of jealousy) among the other generals, who would take credit for Arnold’s success. On numerous occasions, Arnold came close to being fired, but as they say, “It must be nice to have Washington on your side.”

The most exciting part of the story is when he defied orders and rallied a defected militia to victory in the Battle of Saratoga. This would be the first domino to fall in Britain’s ultimate defeat. Unfortunately, as time passed, Arnold would be overlooked, undervalued, and sorely underappreciated, which led to his disillusionment of the Founding Fathers and his single act of treason.

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed runs just over two hours, and I was hooked from the start. This casual history fan was glued to how Stearns tells Arnold’s story. The narrative painted is about a man who dove headfirst into freedom and liberty, only to find that no one around him believed in it as much as he did.

This historical documentary does a thorough job getting into the details and psyche of Benedict Arnold, or at least as much as a historian can, and make it exciting. The drama supporting the narrative is fine, we’re not going to get an Oscar-winning performance, but it’s good enough for a documentary. I’m sure the filmmakers employed a large group of historical re-enactors to stage the enormous battle scenes as a cost-saving measure. Overall, those involved in Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed do a fantastic job supporting Arnold’s story. The results are an educational tale told about the first instance of #Cancel in American History.

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed (2021)

Directed and Written: Chris Stearns

Starring: Peter O'Meara, Martin Sheen, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed Image

"…dove headfirst into freedom and liberty, only to find that no one around him believed in it as much as he did."

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