We all have questionable taste when we're in high school. It's part of being a teenager; we don't dress great, and we're still in the process of figuring out exactly who we are. It's part of growing up, but that also means that our taste changes and evolves as we get older. For this writer, it also meant that I went from watching movies solely for fun to looking at them with a critical eye. Now that I'm an adult and have been reviewing films professionally for almost eight years, I thought about what it would be like to go back and rewatch my favorite movies from when I was a teenager and see how my opinion of them has changed. That is the concept of Flashback Movies; I take one of my favorite movies from roughly ages fifteen to eighteen and rewatch them, sometimes for the first time in over a decade, and see if I view them any differently. Last week we looked back at The Royal Tenenbaums, which not only I enjoyed as much as I did as a teenager but in different ways. This week? Well, this week, we're looking back at The Patriot.
The first thing I noticed when I brought this movie up on Netflix is that it is two hours and forty-five minutes long. Few movies justify a runtime that long, and even those movies tend to drag. The Patriot was a movie that I listed on my list of favorite films in 2003, but for the life of me, I cannot remember why. It isn't the type of movie the goth kid sixteen-year-old me was very much trying to be would like. The Royal Tenenbaums is a quirky dark comedy, and that sort of lines up but not this one. The second thing, several minutes into the movie, was unlike The Royal Tenenbaums I didn't remember anything about The Patriot including that the cast including the dearly departed Heath Ledger. The entire cast is putting their best foot forward here, but the movie is so over the top and melodramatic that scenes that might have rendered me emotional as a teen made me laugh as an adult.
Then there was the elephant in the room that I, as a white woman, did not see as a teenager but could not ignore as an adult. I chose this movie, in particular, considering the events of the last month since the film itself deals with the idea of what a patriot actually is. At the time of the movie, it was going to war to fight for independence. These days, it's the right we have to peacefully protest in the streets. That is patriotism in the modern age, and considering current events, the portrayal of people of color in this production set my teeth on edge. It was a lot of "sure there were slaves, but these people are free, just believe us." There is not a single moment in this movie where the interactions between the white characters and the black characters that feels genuine. It's like this movie takes place in a version of America where the slaves were freed during the Revolutionary War and not in the Civil War only for Jim Crow and segregation to come later.
Roland Emmerich is a director that gets a lot of flack for his movies, sometimes being huge messes, but when his films hold up, they hold up reasonably well. Independence Day absolutely holds up, but turning a modern lens on The Patriot does not. While the action scenes are pretty historically accurate, impaling a horse with a flag scene withstanding, it seems that Emmerich did his homework when it came to troop movements. There is no one better working in Hollywood when you want something destroyed, but, unfortunately, there are action scenes here, but the historical context keeps them somewhat limited. This isn't like Midway, where Emmerich could spend the entire movie showing off battleships getting blown up. This is supposed to be an R-rated slow burn on the horrors of war, but, again, the melodrama is so over the top that it cuts its own emotional catharsis at the knees.
The Patriot years later was a slog that is two hours and forty-five minutes long that I had to pause several times to do something else because I was so bored. I don't remember ever being bored in this movie. I remember watching with rapt attention even if I couldn't remember the details twenty years later, and now I am an adult who couldn't ignore the many, many flaws this movie has. Every time a black man or woman declared that they weren't a slave for the Martin family or when the film frames that Mel Gibson is the sole reason the Union Army won. Or that Jason Isaacs is a British officer who is entirely okay with locking people in a church and burning it down; I'm taken right out of the movie. The Patriot is soap opera framed a historical epic with only the silver lining of most accurate depictions of fighting in the Revolutionary War to back it up.