Greetings again from the darkness. His name has been derogatory punchline for as long as any of us can remember. Labeling someone ‘a Benedict Arnold’ meant they had been disloyal to their team, club, organization, or group of friends. But those of us who are not Revolutionary War historians actually know very little of his story – in fact, few know anything beyond his being a recognized traitor to the United States. Director Chris Stearns, using historian James Kirby Martin’s 1997 book, “Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered”, offers us a deeper and more comprehensive look at a man who was more complex than the epithet he was branded with.
When a film’s opening sequence is from the year 1780, you know that rather than being a traditional documentary, it’s also a blend of docudrama reenactments. And that’s exactly what this, while also working in a number of insightful interviews with historians and writers. Martin Sheen adds gravitas as the narrator who walks us through Arnold’s life. We go back to a childhood that featured a drunken father, whose destruction of the family’s good name prevented a recovery in social standing, despite Arnold’s tremendous success in business and trading.
There is little doubt that this well-researched information on Benedict Arnold will surprise those who watch. For three years, he fought the war with distinguished bravery and skilled leadership. Arnold even self-funded and led militia to fight Britain. He was an accomplished Naval officer and was a hero to the country for those early war years. So what changed him? That’s the part of the story that holds modern day relevance.
Arnold became ever more frustrated. He was not only physically injured while fighting for his country, but he became disenfranchised by endless power plays, political maneuverings, and cronyism of those above him. Lacking the political savvy necessary to self-promote, Arnold became the victim of self-serving officials looking to take credit for his work. As a Patriot, this was unbearable and led to his change in allegiance.
Director Stearns is thorough in his approach, knowing full well the skeptical eye with which most will watch the film. In just over 2 hours, he makes a strong case for the actions of a man who has been vilified for more than 200 years, and concludes that Benedict Arnold has been an American war hero until systemic corruption convinced him the country would be better off under British rule. Benedict Arnold betrayed America, but it seems clear from the facts that America also betrayed Benedict Arnold.
Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed will premiere on TVOD/EST including iTunes and Amazon on November 9. 2021.