Jason Isaacs did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Colonel William Tavington in The Patriot.
This film takes a rather extreme view of the British particularly in the character of Colonel William Tavington based loosely upon the actual Banastre Tarleton who was not a nice chap to be sure but also often was the subject of propaganda pieces that purposefully made his exploits more extreme in nature. Tavington is the villain of the piece and his whole point is being the man you want Gibson to kill. Tavington not only is a brutal officer to begin with as he burns Gibson's character house and barn but he also murders one of his sons just after condemning another one of his sons to death just before he pointed his weapon at everyone of his family members just to make a threat. Tavington is unrelentingly evil in his personal style and actions throughout the film.
Jason Isaacs with this film set himself to play many more evil British men in his career but it all started here. As with many instances of type casting the first time is the best time. Isaacs plays up Tavington's evil not by going over the top, at least not in the traditional sense, but staying very British in his sensibilities. Isaacs has Tavington always keep his cool proper demeanor even when he is making threats or murdering innocents. He is actually quite brilliant in this respect creating a withdrawn but very visceral intensity in his performance. Isaacs carefully always keeps him in a soldier in the King's army as he should while still making him one of the most cruel and vicious soldiers imaginable.
The whole point of Isaacs is a build a great deal of hate for his character as he goes from place to place being despicable while leaving many dead in his wake. Isaacs of course meets this most general requirement but adds to by suggesting a little more to his character given the brief moments he is allowed. One of aspect Isaacs handles especially well is the sadistic tendencies in Tavington. It would have been much easier to just have these broad gestures in regards to portraying this, but Isaacs is far more effective portraying this aspect of Tavington in a subtle fashion. One great scene in particular is when Tavington kills someone with a sword and Isaacs is very chilling in just showing a slight change in his expression as you can see him indulging in the pleasure of the moment.
There is one scene that suggests that Tavington's brutality also comes from wanting to make a name for himself as he had his inheritance wasted by his father. It is a scene that it does not dwell upon, and frankly the film forgets about shortly after mentioning it. Isaacs makes the scene for all its worth and he gives a sense of the mindset of Tavington even beyond the evil. Isaacs suggests well, in the very brief moment he is given, the pain he hides for his misfortune and where his very extreme aggressiveness comes from. The film really does not follow up on this point too much preferring to keep Tavington as a pretty to the point baddie, but Isaacs makes the most of it and shows that he very well could have made even more to Tavington if the film had allowed him to.
The meat of this performance is Isaacs making Tavington the villain of the piece and he does that really well. He is imposing throughout giving a real sense of danger whenever he is onscreen. Isaacs even more importantly perhaps, due to the revenge nature of this film, makes Tavington the man you want to see Mel Gibson kill before the war is over. Isaacs performance really raises the ante for the final duel because he so effectively makes you want to see Tavington dead. The first time I watched the film back in 2000 I yelled a mighty "Yes" when Tavington finally lost his upper hand. Isaacs by realizing the evil in Tavington so vividly allows the finale of the film to be truly satisfying. Isaacs gives a very strong performance dong what he can with Tavington somewhat limited character, and absolutely thriving when it comes to serving his purpose in the plot.